4 App Development Best Practices From Atlantic Health System

Atlantic Health System, based in Morristown, N.J., recently launched the first of a suite of four apps, one specific to each of four of Atlantic Health System's hospitals (with another on the way for its fifth hospital), designed to provide users both with up-to-date health information as well as connect them with hospital resources.

The idea for the apps originated in research showing more and more consumers are turning to Internet-based and mobile resources for healthcare information. "We found consumers are looking for information about doctors online as well as health information," says Laurel Sohigian, manager of digital marketing strategy in the health system's marketing and public relations department. This realization spurred the creation of a go-to resource for both trustworthy health information as well as information on Atlantic Health System's hospitals and available resources.

Atlantic Health System already had a mobile version of its website with much of this information, but the system wanted to create "something more robust and easy to use," which led to the decision to develop an app, says Mark Lederman, director of strategic services in the Information Services and Support department. "We wanted something that would show up nicely on a hand-held device, and that would be the same quality as their banking app or that sort of thing," he says.

Using the help of an outside developer, the creation process took just under a year. Developing the suite of apps revealed several best practices for other hospitals looking to develop their own consumer-facing apps.

1. Make it a joint effort between marketing and IT. Atlantic Health System's apps were developed by a team of both marketing and IT personnel, which Ms. Sohigian says allowed each group's expertise to shine. "Marketing is more of a content and message driver, and IT knows about the backend and how to work with the vendor," she says. "It was a great combination; it's good not to work in silos."

2. Incorporate updated, not static, data. In one of the first iterations of the apps, the data available in the app was static, rather than being regularly updated from Atlantic Health System's databases. The development team quickly realized this was detrimental to features like the physician search functionality. Without regularly updated data, the apps "just aren't useful tools," says Mr. Lederman.

3. Know where the updated data is coming from. "One of the lessons we learned is where to get the data from so it's easy to maintain the apps," says Ms. Sohigian. Atlantic Health System supplies all data refreshes for the apps in-house, so developers worked to create common data sources to simplify pushing out data updates. "Having the data come from our website really makes updates and maintenance easier," she says. "We caught on to that really fast."

4. If something works, reuse it. Atlantic Health System used a lot of the same features for the four apps to speed the development process, including data pathways. "We took the data streams we already had and re-pointed them" to provide content for subsequent apps, says Mr. Lederman. "There was no need for us to reinvent the wheel" when developing apps, he says.

The initial reaction to the apps has been strong, says Mr. Lederman. "They will prove to be a good platform to continue to roll out functionality over the next months and years," including a clinical trails finder tool and in-app appointment scheduling, he says. "We're going to keep enhancing this as a tool for our patients, families and guests."

More Articles on Apps:

6 Health Apps Harness the Power of Watson
Cleveland Clinic's App Development Strategy: "Never Consider a Project Finished"
WebMD Launches New App for Healthcare Professionals

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