Healthcare professionals who create and develop their own health app often miss key elements when it comes to producing their application.

This means they forego opportunities to speed up development time and make their app play well with other apps. We recently attended the Health:Refactored conference where this topic was highlighted.

Below we’ve distilled some of the key messages shared by leaders from Microsoft, Allscripts, FDA and more.

Apps shouldn’t reinvent the wheel

Sean Nolan (@familyhealthguy), a Microsoft Distinguished Engineer and Chief Architect who heads Microsoft’s Health Solutions Group, praised platforms as the way to cut development time and costs.

He first noted that the current state of healthcare practice is terrible because of the lack of information available to both doctors and patients:

“The practice of healthcare is so mediocre, just by doing something you’re likely to make things better,” Nolan quoted from an anonymous source. “Nobody has a complete picture of your care. Nobody. We forget most of what we hear in the office. Doctors would rather send you a letter than an email. People regularly don’t even fill scripts, let alone take the meds. Emergency rooms know nothing about us. We fill out the same paperwork again and again. We have no idea if our doctor is better than that other one over there.”

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Other questions that healthcare start-ups need to address, according to Nolan, include:

  • How do people learn about your solution?
  • How do you get the data you need for your solution to work?
  • How do you provision people’s identities?
  • What platform do you choose? Nolan notes that not everyone has an iPhone, which traditionally has been reserved for wealthier clientele.
  • How do you ensure ‘any’ patient can use your solution?
  • How do you ensure ‘any’ provider can use your solution?
  • How does your solution communicate back to providers to impact care?
  • Where and how can payment happen?

“Platforms are the answer,” Nolan says. “Stand on platforms to scale. All of the aforementioned questions can be solved by a platform. The things you ignore in a pilot are exactly the hard problems you need to solve.”

“You need to look beyond what you’re going to pilot,” then “ask, ‘how am I going to keep this sustainable?’ The answer is the platforms that are being grown now.”

Nolan notes that the reason a lot of start-ups and initiatives at universities stall is because they try to focus on those aforementioned questions too much when they could have other companies solve these problems for them.

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It is worth noting that throughout this conference, Microsoft aggressively marketed their HealthVault platform to the attendees.

Share health data: ways to make data open

Rachel Kalmar (@grapealope), a data scientist at Misfit Wearables, conducted an experiment for several months wearing multiple body sensors to see how much her health could improve with these devices.

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Kalmar found that, to her dismay, all of the devices couldn’t operate together and that she couldn’t access the data.

She believes, however, that since the consumer health tech industry is still in a prototyping stage creating different devices and apps, it may be too soon to demand that devices operate together. Why? No standards exist yet because the functionality is still evolving at a rapid pace. Kalmar feels that building clear API’s and documentation is an interim measure while the industry decides what to do with standards.

Kalmar also asks, “How can [companies] balance being competitive with being open?” There are various ways to be “open”.

They include:

  • pay-per-API call – Google does this.
  • reciprocal data sharing – Jawbone does this. However, it’s harder for newer developers and companies to reciprocate data sharing if they have little data to offer.
  • pay for data download.
  • free API access to trusted parties.
  • build a platform – similar to RunKeeper, Google Play, and Apple Store. Useful if the developer already has traction.
  • open data share & share-alike license – like Creative Commons.
  • completely closed.
  • completely open – companies pursuing this will have a more difficult time in the future to monetize their business.

Kalmar recommends attending various meetups, like www.meetup.com/Sensored and www.meetup.com/HardwareStartupSF , to further find solutions to this problem.