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An impressive 82 percent of healthcare organizations surveyed have a fully implemented mobile strategy, indicating a greater level of maturity compared to commercial enterprises. A year ago, Red Hat’s enterprise mobility survey revealed this figure to be only 52 percent of respondents across commercial industries. In addition, nearly eight in 10 (78 percent) healthcare organizations surveyed are achieving positive ROI from mobile app investments. The research, commissioned with research firm Vanson Bourne, looks at how 200 IT decision makers from public healthcare, private healthcare, life sciences and pharmaceutical organizations in the U.S., France, Germany and the United Kingdom implement their mobile app development strategies and some of the challenges they face.

This success in ROI mirrors the expectation that the average number of healthcare apps developed by U.S. respondents over the next 12 months will grow 56 percent from nine to 14. European respondents developed an average of 13 apps and expect that number will grow by 31 percent to 17 apps in the next 12 months.

However, the expected increase in budgets may not support this level of growth. While respondents are looking on average to develop 36 percent more apps in the next 12 months, they are only planning to increase their budget 15.5 percent to support this – and that can include the need to maintain and update existing apps. This disparity between investment growth and desired app volumes  may not be achieved by developing mobile apps as one-off projects. Rather a modern platform-based approach that supports agile development and modern API-based architecture can help increase developer efficiency, reduce development costs, and support the increasing demand for mobile apps.

Understanding the healthcare audience and motivations

The healthcare industry as a whole can deploy mobile apps in an effort to both satisfy internal business and provider needs, as well as patient demands and competitive pressures. Mobile apps are currently provided primarily for doctors (59 percent), patients/members (55 percent), and technicians (44 percent) by U. S. respondents and are currently provided primarily for pharmaceutical research development staff (53 percent), followed by patients/members (46 percent) and doctors (43 percent) by European respondents.

The main drivers of mobile app development are:

  • Business/internal demand for more productivity (63 percent U.S. respondents and 60 percent European respondents)
  • Healthcare provider demand for better patient engagement and care (60 percent U.S. respondents and 57 percent European respondents)
  • External/member/patient demand for mobile apps (56 percent U.S. respondents and 43 percent European respondents)

However, over the next 12 months, these drivers are expected to shift slightly for both the U.S. and European respondents. In the U.S., external/user/patient demand (60 percent) is expected to marginally outpace demand for internal efficiencies (59 percent) as a main driver for developing healthcare apps. In Europe, competitor pressure to have mobile solutions is expected to advance app development (45 percent), while external/user/patient demand (36 percent) becomes less of a factor.

Mobile healthcare challenges

Our research shows nearly all organizations surveyed (98 percent) experience challenges when implementing mobile solutions, including security, cost, regulatory and compliance issues, and users/patient/customer adoption.

Security is the most dominant business concern, with nearly all (98 percent) respondents reporting concerns over app security. To gain further context, the survey broke down specific security concerns:

  • Three in 10 (30 percent) of U.S. respondents reported that their primary security concern is data encryption from device back-end systems.
  • Furthermore, 29 percent of U.S. respondents reported that their greatest security concern is end-to-end HIPAA compliance.
  • For European respondents one in four (25 percent) report that user authentication and authorization is their primary security concern.

Additionally, nearly all (97 percent) respondents experience technical challenges when deploying their organization’s mobile apps. In the U.S., 29 percent of respondents listed back-end integration to healthcare systems as the biggest technical challenge, followed by securing access to data at 27 percent. In Europe, 33 percent of respondents reported their greatest technical challenge was securing access to data, followed by deployment of app code at 21 percent. Other challenges identified by both U.S. and European respondents include scaling (10 percent) and app life cycle management (eight percent).

The majority of respondents are using on-premise deployment for mobile apps, rather than cloud deployment. More than half (53 percent) of all respondents use an on-premise or partial on-premise deployment model. In the U.S. 23 percent deploy in a private cloud and 11 percent in a public cloud, compared to 15 percent of European respondents that deploy mobile apps in a private cloud and 24 percent in a public cloud. The on-premise and partial on-premise approach is not surprising given the regulatory and compliance requirements that govern healthcare companies in their handling of sensitive patient information. These organizations may benefit from looking at new generation app development and delivery platforms, based on modern technologies and architectures that can be deployed on-premise.

Development tools and languages

Java is currently the dominating back-end integration language for healthcare apps. More than half (52 percent) of all respondents use Java for mobile app (back-end) development, followed by .Net (15 percent), other JavaScript (13 percent), Ruby on Rails (10 percent) and Node.js (nine percent). The reliance on heavy weight languages like Java and .Net for integration may be limiting respondents’ agility in mobile integrations, when compared to using lightweight back-end languages such as Node.js. Using heavy weight languages and not widespread use of platforms such as Mobile Backend-as-a-Service (MBaaS) that can do the heavy lifting on integration may be where the technological challenge in integration is stemming from.  

The respondents use a mix of different tools and platform technologies to develop mobile apps. Nearly four in 10 (39 percent) U.S. and European respondents report their organization or organization’s mobile app provider primarily uses a mix of common mobile front-end toolkits (SDKs, JS frameworks, etc.) to develop mobile apps. Approximately a quarter use rapid mobile application development (RMAD) (26 percent) or a mobile application development platform (MADP) (23 percent) for mobile app development. Just 10 percent of U.S. respondents and only three percent of European respondents use MBaaS to integrate mobile apps.

The needs of caregivers, patients and business are different and wide ranging. There is no single solution to meet the needs of all the various mobile demands, which is reflected in the mix of different tools and platforms employed by the survey respondents. Even the best off-the-shelf solutions or RMAD tools can only address some of the challenges. For the healthcare industry, a central platform may work best to help develop, manage, secure and maintain both current and future mobile apps.

Research methodology

Red Hat, Inc., commissioned Vanson Bourne to poll the views of 200 IT decision makers from private, public, life sciences and pharmaceutical healthcare organizations with at least 1,000 employees in the U.S., France, Germany and the United Kingdom. The survey was completed in October 2016, and was carried out online.

*Photo by NEC Corporation of America with Creative Commons license.

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