7 key principles for health insurance mobile apps (well, all apps for that matter)

As American consumers increasingly rely on smartphones to access the Internet and conduct transactions, creating a mobile-friendly experience is a must for health insurers and payers. At a minimum, they should make sure their member portals work well on mobile devices. But to really reap the benefits of mobile, many payers are also creating custom-branded mobile apps that allow them to exercise greater control over the mobile experience and tap in to mobile device functionality like GPS.

In a previous blog, I listed some best practices for healthcare payer mobile experiences, including apps and responsive websites. Here are seven principles to follow specifically for mobile apps:

  1. Make sure your goals are clear

Before you start building an app, make sure everyone internally agrees on your goals. It’s best to state goals from the user’s perspective, not your perspective. For example, here are some goals stated in the user’s voice:

  • I want to check the status of my claim
  • I want to find a doctor near me
  • I want to get reminders about preventive care services I need
  1. Don’t just copy your competitors

Once you’ve set your goals, it may be tempting to look at how your competitors have built the same functionality and just copy that. But let’s be honest: most of your competitors are behind the times. Instead of looking at them, look at similar transactions in completely different industries. Checking a claim is similar to checking order status, so look at ecommerce sites like Amazon. Searching for a doctor is similar to searching nearby hotels, so look at travel sites like Expedia. How many steps does it take to complete a transaction? How are the steps broken out? What kind of feedback do users get along the way? By looking outside your industry for inspiration, you won’t be playing follow the leader – you will be the leader.

  1. Keep your design simple

Unnecessary design has no place on an app – there just isn’t enough screen space to spare. Keep colors and images to a minimum. Any element that doesn’t help the user achieve his or her goal is just getting in the way; that’s why most apps today don’t use a lot of photography. And if you ever have to choose between design and function, choose function.

  1. Streamline content

The smaller the screen, the harder it is to read for long periods of time. Plus, too much content jammed into a small area is overwhelming to users. Break up your content into smaller chunks that are easy to digest. Edit down your words – and then edit again. And don’t feel the need to link to every tool you have on your app’s home page. Show the high-level information and then let users dig deeper and deeper as they go.

  1. Use graphs to display complex information

If you have a paragraph of information, see how you can show that same information visually. If the screen is still crowded, let users tap on the graph for more details. Typically the fewer taps the better – but in this case, a few extra taps won’t hurt anything if it cleans up the interface.

  1. Follow known user interface paradigms

App design and development are reaching a state of maturity where we have certain standard paradigms, just like with website design. For example, Google has set some best practices for Android such as:

  • Use a pull-out menu on the left for inter-app navigation
  • Ensure that another button doesn’t compete with or be easily confused with the up/back button at the top left
  • Put the “three dots” menu at the top right if you need an overflow menu

There are similar standards for iPhone, and some of the standards cross over from one operating system to another. This continuing evolution will help improve mobile user experience by creating a more consistent paradigm across operating systems and devices.

  1. Employ feedback mechanisms

Great apps build in feedback mechanisms that give users a confirmation that they’ve done something – a reaction to their action. For example, if someone taps on the navigation menu, making it slide in from the side (rather than pop up) gives users a hint that they can swipe to close the menu.

A mobile app is a great way for health insurers and payers to engage members whenever and wherever they are. By following these principles, you can develop an app that represents you well – and, ultimately, helps build your brand with members and employers.

Michael Gordon is the Chief Product & Strategy Officer at Healthx. He has over 23 years of software and information technology experience with extensive expertise in product development for healthcare payer organizations. His passion is developing innovative, disruptive solutions that will transform the healthcare industry.