7 digital health tips: Selecting a platform and developing a minimal viable product

digital health

Fifth in an ongoing series of Innovator’s Roadmap posts from Boston Children’s Hospital’s Innovation & Digital Health Accelerator (IDHA). Matt Murphy is Innovation Lead at IDHA.

We recently provided guidelines for developing prototypes of digital health products incorporating user-centered design and feedback from multiple sources. Let’s assume you’ve gone through multiple cycles of design updates, informed by your project goals and requirements, regulatory considerations and your long-term business or clinical strategy. Now, it’s time to select a technology platform and begin developing a fully functioning prototype of your innovation — your minimum viable product (MVP).

Below are some technical and tactical considerations to ensure your innovation’s long-term success and sustainability.

Platform selection tips for digital health innovations

Most digital health applications will need to interface with a human user in some way. This interface can occur across a multitude of platforms, from a smartphone app to a web-based computer program. In choosing a platform, take the following into account:

  1. Single platforms can be limiting: More and more digital health innovations are available across multiple platforms, increasing adoption and ease of use for users. (Of course, multiple platforms will also increase your scope of work, both technically and commercially.)
  1. Use cases and prevalence: Your platform should take user scenarios into account, as well as the prevalence or availability of that platform in your target user group. For example, you wouldn’t deploy an intensive data analytics tool on the small screen of a smartphone due to hardware and viewing limitations. But you also might not want to develop a native desktop software application, due to cost constraints, lifecycle issues or practical clinical considerations.

digital health - platform selection

  1. Cost considerations: Is the initial development cost of a specific platform prohibitive? Are a platform’s ongoing maintenance costs high or low, relative to your budget? Answers to questions such as these will inform your platform selection.
  1. Technology considerations: Native iOS and Windows applications, as well as web applications, are best suited for a desktop or notebook computer. Mobile compatible websites, applications native to iOS/Android/Windows phones, and hybrid applications are often best suited for a smartphone or tablet. Some innovations can be built onto a specific interface, such as a medical device, voice-enabled technology, wearable device or smartwatch.

Leveraging your minimum viable product (MVP) 

Developing digital health tools can be expensive and time consuming. The MVP — a functioning version of your technology on the platform of your choice — is an ideal entrée into real-world testing. An MVP does not have to be a complete, final version, but should present value and operate in a style similar to your envisioned final technology. This method allows you to incorporate feedback before building your final product. Use these tips as a starting point:

  1. Trust the MVP strategy: Innovators eager to advance cutting-edge digital health technologies often perceive the MVP method as an inefficient use of time. In the chart below, though, you’ll see a comparison between a traditional software development lifecycle and the MVP method. Initially, the MVP seems to add unnecessary design and programming work, but in reality, it only needs the core features of the digital tool. The MVP allows you to generate user feedback to validate the strategy or technology behind your application and focus any necessary redesign efforts.

digital health - MVP method vs. typical software development

  1. Fail early and fail often: Failure is to be expected at the cutting edge of digital health innovation. An MVP is a low-risk tool to ensure that failure happens as early as possible, given its inevitable nature, when you still have the opportunity to learn and adapt. Better to fail at the MVP stage than after undertaking a full development cycle.
  1. Avoid endless iterations: Iteration and repeated testing are encouraged — in moderation. Define clear deadlines and a maximum number of MVP cycles to prevent endless design changes. This will help your project stay connected to its original objectives, while ensuring that your technology reaches users in a timely fashion.

Platform selection and the completion of the MVP strategy go hand in hand towards developing an impactful, sustainable digital health technology, informed by in-depth knowledge of the market being served and the pain points being solved. Now it’s time to take the first step toward commercialization. In our next Vector post, we’ll dive into building a startup company.

Download the complete Innovator’s Roadmap.