Digital Health: iOS or Android™
Medical Device developers are always looking for ways to reduce risk in devices. A major source of risk is poor usability. When designing medical devices (including mobile medical devices), the challenge of presenting complex, precise, and possibly life critical information to the user is huge. Identification of critical functions, foreseeable misuse, training requirements, use cases, and design consistency are just some of the criteria used to refine and quantify the effectiveness of a User Interface (UI).
Luckily the mobile device industry has solved much of this problem for Digital Health applications and mobile medical devices by providing powerful platforms with rich user experiences, and a huge base of highly experienced users. We all know someone who can single-handedly send a text, edit a video, and play a round of Angry Birds on their iOS or Android™ device (literally with one hand), while still struggling to update their laptop OS.
Smart Medical Device developers leverage the effort already put into mobile device UIs and provide users with a user interface that follows patterns and presents information in a manner they are already comfortable with. Here are some considerations for choosing between the two most popular platforms.
Hardware & Risk Management
It’s common in the development of Medical Devices to be required to use Risk Management and mitigate some form of risk. Risk Management applies a systematic process for identifying, determining and addressing the severity and probability of risks. The output of this process is a set of mitigations which prevent or sufficiently reduce risk to the patient and operator. Mitigations are typically electrical or mechanical in nature and specific to the device such as an over-current detection circuit or a mechanical hard stop. Android supports a wide range of open hardware platforms which allow Medical Device developers the freedom they may need to interface with the mitigating components of the device. In some cases, e.g., when components can be implemented via a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connection, Apple or Android can be used equally.
It is rare to find a design team that is a cohesive group of perfectly balanced and collaborative gurus. However, it’s common to have the design and implementation teams in separate buildings, cities, countries, or even continents. This separation can lead to integration issues. The design team may not have sufficient technical experience or fully understand the effort required to implement some designed features. Conversely the implementation team may not understand the principles and intent of the design. Android and iOS provide similar solutions to this problem.
OS Lock Down
Ever-changing mobile Operating Systems and other SOUP (Software of Unknown Provenance) are a constant challenge for Software Engineers in the Medical Device industry. Good Medical Device developers want to insulate themselves from changes to the mobile OS which could inversely affect the safety or effectiveness of the device. Contrary to good Medical Device design, which should be verified and stable, mobile Operating Systems are intended to be updated frequently by the user. Since it is impractical to re-verify every time the mobile OS is updated, developers need to lock the mobile OS version without crippling the device.
While the number of people with mobile devices is certainly amazing, what I find even more amazing is the proficiency with which they use and understand their devices, be it Android or Apple. Having a user who understands the operating principles of a medical device is not only useful, it is reassuring. Use our Mobile Device Considerations and Comparison Guide to help you determine whether Apple or Android should be your platform of choice.
Shane Reierson is a Software Systems Engineer at StarFish Medical. As part of our Product Development Team, he develops stand-alone software applications and applications designed to support mechanical and electrical components of mobile medical devices. He doesn’t understand the attraction of Angry Birds.
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