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4 things you should know before building a digital health product

There’s huge potential in the digital health app market—both for businesses and for patients. We look at the key points to consider when building innovative digital health products.
Luise Kreisel

Luise Kreisel

10 min read

Even before the start of the Covid pandemic in 2020, healthcare was becoming more and more important to the economy worldwide. In 2021 the global health market is expected to grow almost 10%—from $183.30 billion in 2020 to $201.24 billion. Due to the growing adoption of technical solutions, ageing populations, and the rising occurrence of chronic diseases, digital health solutions will be in demand more than ever in the next few years. New technologies like healthcare apps have gained rapid adaptation, opening up completely new markets to build innovative and health related digital products. 

Although the market may seem to have endless opportunities, building a digital health product can sound like an easier task than it actually is. There are many things to take into consideration before building a digital health product. 

1. Be aware of your target group and their challenges

In the digital health market you can identify three main target groups:

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  • Patients who suffer from illness, care for their wellbeing, or want to stay healthy.  
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  • Employees working in the digital health sector who are facing the challenges of being overworked. They need innovative solutions to work effectively, to manage the workload and have more time to care for their patients. 
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  • Companies in the health sector who want to work more efficiently, adapt to the ever changing market, and take creative and innovative routes to reevaluate or extend their business models.

Empathising with your target audience and discovering their daily challenges should be one of the core focus points when entering the digital health space for product discovery. Thorough market research, persona mapping and problem framing are essential before working on solutions to solve your target users’ problems. The human should always be at the centre of discovery and ranked over business needs, even more than in usual design-thinking processes. 

2. Know your market and its regulations

Over the past years, innovations in the digital health sector have exploded. One of the top health markets in the world, Germany proved to be a pioneer in the field of digital health in 2020, securing pole position in the race for digital health innovations. With the Digital Health Care Act (DiGA) passed by the German government in 2019, the foundation was set to catalyse the digital transformation of the German healthcare system. From now on, digital health applications that fulfill certain requirements can be prescribed by doctors and reimbursed by the German health system. 

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  • The product must be certified as a medical product class I or II under the MDR (Medical Device Regulation)
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  • The product’s purpose must be to detect or monitor treatment, reduce pain, or treat disease, injury or disability. These functions must be fulfilled by the use of digital technologies only. 
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  • The intended use must be centered around the patient, but can also include the doctor.

Meeting the criteria of the Medical Device Regulation and Digital Health Care Act also involves requirements like regular product testing, following medical standards, implementing high standards in data security— such as not using any third party providers outside of Europe—and providing clinical studies to prove the efficacy of the product. 

Although Germany is now a pioneer in the digital health market, every country has its own unique healthcare system with different requirements and challenges. This makes it essential to gain a deep level of knowledge about the target market of each country before starting the product discovery phase. 

3. Staff your team with expert knowledge

Regulations, laws and requirements are at the centre of developing digital products. Even though you might be an expert in the field of product development, or a medical expert, you should get expert help for your team in the fields in which you lack knowledge. Experts can be an attorney or consultant who knows about digital health, an internal regulations manager who keeps an eye on whether  the products and features built are fulfilling all requirements, medical experts with profound knowledge of the field, or a user research team who will specialise in medical device testing. 

Depending on the medical problem you want to help or cure, it can be more or less difficult to find users to test the medical standards of your application. Creating a pool of potential users for testing and user research in advance can help to streamline the process.

4. Keep an eye on your competitors

Many investors and companies have discovered the digital health market over the last few years. Keeping a close eye on your competitors within the market is therefore an important factor to consider when developing a digital health application.

Since the Digital Health Care Act, over 100 companies have handed in digital products to be certified by the German health system. Only 23 have been approved, meaning they can now be prescribed by doctors to their patients. Many of them treat mental illness, like depression or anxiety, or also alcoholism, insomnia or obesity. 

Other companies offer digital services around healthcare, like kry and teleclinic, who connect patients with their doctors via an app. Products such as these make visiting a doctor much easier, especially for people with limited mobility. 

It’s clear that developing a digital health product isn’t without its challenges,  but as we already mentioned at the beginning, there’s huge potential in the market. And, even more importantly: if you have an idea for an app or tool that has the potential to change lives for the better, then it's definitely worth giving it a try. Pay attention to the product discovery phase, and assemble a team of experts to help you get through the pitfalls of the process—and if you don’t know where or how to start, just drop us a line. We’d be more than happy to challenge your idea and help you set up the process.