How we developed a platform that helps oncologists and their patients: Purrweb’s case

Once, an experienced oncologist asked Purrweb to make a digital version of routine patient surveys. That was the beginning of the Medico platform, which now exists as a mobile and web app.

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Oncologists hired us to save them from spending their resources during face-to-face appointments

In 2022, Andrew Mescherakov — a practicing oncologist — came to us with an idea. He treats oncological patients: examines them at face-to-face appointments, refers them for tests, analyzes the results, adjusts medication individually, and decides on a treatment plan. Then, he monitors his patients: regularly checks how they are feeling while taking the medication, how strong the side effects are, and whether there is any progress.

At an appointment, a doctor checks test results and questions the patient about their condition

Just like other doctors, our client monitored his patients’ progress during appointments. This approach has a lot of disadvantages, affecting both parties:

Face-to-face appointments require time. Oncologists have a heavy workload and can’t afford to conduct simple surveys in person. Hiring more personnel just to monitor patients is also expensive and difficult.

Face-to-face appointments are exhausting. Patients have to get to the hospital and then wait in line. This not only takes time but also elevates anxiety levels, which can be detrimental to a patient’s health.

Results become irrelevant very quickly. If a patient’s body temperature or blood pressure gets above or below normal, doctors might learn about it when it’s already late. This is a serious problem, considering how strong side effects of cancer medications can be.

During appointments, doctors ask the same common questions, and the test results can be sent by email. Thus, this routine is a perfect fit for remote monitoring once a proper infrastructure is provided. This proved to be a challenge.

MedTech is developing but doesn’t offer any ready-made options 

Today’s prognoses promise that, in the near future, AI will monitor our health and mostly replace doctors. In 99 cases out of 100, IBM’s Watson — the Jeopardy! winner — already prescribes the therapy an experienced doctor would. Here, doctors check and correct the way algorithms work, just like supervisors.

Conquering cancer with technology is a specific medtech task that experts are actively dealing with. IBM develops an anti-cancer project by the name Watson for Oncology, Google designs DeepMind, and Microsoft is working on its own product — Project Hanover.

And while researchers are doing well, these tools are almost nonexistent for patients and their doctors “in the field”.

Some countries have projects for post-op monitoring, but they are either very specific or hard to access.

That’s how our client and their team came up with the idea of a service with digital patient surveys. First, it would solve an actual problem in this industry. Second, it would bring profit, as it would have no competition in the market. So, our clients decided to sell the platform as a SAAS solution for oncology departments.

Meeting the client 

Our client found an investor and needed only an outsourced development team. They had a few candidates.

We — at Purrweb — responded to their interesting idea. Our sales manager and CTO arrived at a personal meeting. They offered not only possible product versions, but also they had some ideas to reduce the budget.

Finally, the client and their team chose us. With no relevant examples to refer to, Together with our clients, we have developed an app that allows monitoring cancer patients remotely.

Inventing a MedTech app from scratch 

The interaction between Purrweb and our clients is based on a clear routine. We discuss the project tasks, ideas, implementation options, and a business model. Then, we apply all the ideas to the actual product. We have offered Medico two apps: a mobile version for the patients and a web version for the doctors.

Our first step was to decide on the basic app logistics. We have determined that the platform becomes necessary as a doctor comes up with a treatment plan and prescribes drugs. Using this as a starting point, we defined the main features of the future product.

Adding a patient. A doctor opens their profile and sends an invitation link to a patient’s email so they can download the app. The patient gets access to the UI and is automatically added to the doctor’s list.

The doctor’s profile in the Medico app

Custom surveys. The doctor attaches a recurrent health survey to the patient. The list of questions depends on the treatment plan. The app sends patients notifications on these surveys as often as the doctor selects: once a day, every two days, a week, or a month.

Uploading lab test results. Together with our clients, we prioritized the service’s features: surveys being the main feature, and tests — the additional one. To save clients’ money, we didn’t develop an additional interface for tests but instead, we simplified everything as much as possible: the patient uploads a PDF file or a photo — a notification appears on the doctor’s panel with direct access to the file.

The main screen of the mobile version for patients

Tracking indicators. If the patient’s indicators are out of the normal range, the platform notifies the doctors. Patients don’t see this data. This is how we ensure that their answers are only about how they feel, and are not affected by the lab result charts.

Notifications appear on the panel with the list of the patients and in the notification center

Contacting a doctor. The patient can send a call request to the doctor by tapping the phone icon. The doctor will see the related notification on their panel.

Surveys and dashboards — addressing the specific challenges of oncologists

Our app is meant to solve two problems of oncologists: they spend too much time conducting personal appointments, and the results can be late. We faced two challenges: the app was supposed to fully replace personal interaction, and patients had to do surveys regularly. To achieve these goals, we focused on two features: survey kits and result visualization.

How our product solves the clients’ problems

Surveys. Our clients are practicing physicians, so they know what drugs oncologists prescribe and what questions they ask about these drugs. Our task was just to link this knowledge and the app.

Our client manually made question lists for hundreds of medications. We added them to the app, and our developers linked them to the drug names. For example, once a doctor selects Arimidex, they just need to choose a relevant question list from the drop-down list. If they need a new question list, they can use a special kit to make one. In a special form, which they name, doctors add questions, and provide possible answers: yes/no, number ranges, or a free answer option. This is even easier than a Google form!

A doctor can customize any survey from the database or create a new one

Medico is designed for different countries, so our project manager came up with the idea to adapt notifications to different time zones and send them to users at the same time. The system automatically identifies time based on the GMT zone and sends notifications at certain hours.

Dashboards. To monitor patients’ condition, doctors need to see only the abnormal indicators. Whereas the patients are curious about their general progress, this approach kills their anxiety, gives them a sense of control over their health, and motivates them to do the surveys. To make this kind of performance diary, we used dashboards — “indicator panels” that visualize patient data.

The dashboards get data right from the surveys after every update

How we chose references: pharmacy apps and bank cards 

We created the first concept based on three types of references:

Negative references. It’s a lengthy reference list sent by our clients. Such lists help us decide on the tools and ideas that we definitely are not going to use. Negative references help understand clients’ preferences but give designers enough freedom to stay creative.

Our clients shared their ideas with us, and we made a stop list

Positive references. Our design team collected dozens of sample healthcare services and UIs from all over the world. We selected pharmacy products, lab test apps, and fitness trackers as our references.

Indirect references. As the market doesn’t offer any apps for oncologists and patient monitoring, we focused on very different examples. For instance, we borrowed neat survey cards from bank products where large amounts of data are distributed among simple cards.

How we developed the design together with our clients: grayish-blue and bigger letters 

We used purple and pink colors for accents in the first design mockup. Designers often choose these colors for medtech apps so users recognize them easily. In the second version, we added orange to make a complementary color scheme. Users are familiar with this combination as well.

The first design concepts

Our clients insisted on a more neutral option and suggested a grayish blue color scheme. Finally, we chose this variant as it was the most universal option.

Clients helped us adapt other design elements, too. For example, bigger and simpler text to make it more readable for people with poor eyesight. Also, we removed the + buttons and made buttons with text saying Create a new survey.

With our clients, we went through 8+ typeface options to find the One

How we added the hospital panel

Initially, we envisioned two user paths for the app: for a patient and for a doctor. Still, our clients’ business model was much wider — they planned to sell this platform to hospitals as a SAAS solution. In some cases, they intended to provide access for free. Anyway, hospital administrators and registration clerks will use it as they connect doctors and patients. The third user path was needed for them.

As we discussed the hospital panel with our clients, we intended to add a feature that would let users add medications and edit the medications/ questions manually right in the app. Still, developing such a base is hard (and expensive), as users have to have the option to update it in real-time, and multiple surveys could be linked to one drug as well as different answers may be linked to multiple surveys. The chemotherapy field is constantly evolving, so drugs and recommendations on them can change just as quickly.

Our developers recommended enabling external editing via Excel, as basic functions are enough for an MVP version of the app. This saved our client’s resources and helped launch the platform faster.

Manual editing in the first version of the platform

The long-awaited release was worth it 

The project started in June 2021. It grew rapidly — for example, the design took about 150 hours. Still, the product was ready for release only by December 2022 because of legal complications relating to the Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. Both documents are necessary in any service from landings to apps, and require a lot of work, especially in healthcare services.

In January 2023, we released the mobile app in AppStore and Google Play. The first users have already downloaded it.

Medico is a perfect example of turning personal expertise into a product. Our clients found an outdated process and came up with an idea to improve it with modern technologies. Their platform both contributes to the industry and actually helps people. At Purrweb, we are glad to be a part of this project.

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