How I made a medical mobile app

This is a brief description of the experience/my personal reflection after finally publishing the first version of my app on the Apple and Google Play stores, following months of effort and time spent in front of the computer.


How it started

So I was sending emails out to the consultants within the department hoping to get involved with some projects, one of them replied with an idea for developing a mobile app. It would serve as a reference tool of the various classification systems for MSK radiologists to use in their daily reporting, akin to how junior doctors refer to the BNF app during clinical practice. It was a rather niche topic, but it was innovative enough that I thought to give it a go.

Coding the app

So having being handed this job, I needed to learn coding from scratch. If I recall correctly, my supervisor came across as expecting me to already fully have a solid foundation in app making for whatever reason, which I have no idea why. I have some background in web development and know the basics of HTML and CSS, but mobile app development is completely new to me. I settled on learning the Dart language and using the Flutter tool to code my app since it allows the same code to be used for both iOS and Android devices. I learnt how to make an app mainly through researching online and watching Youtube videos. It was reasonably straightforward setting up the layout of the pages but there were obviously some features that don't exactly fit what others's examples do, so I had to extrapolate from their process. After an arduous one month of learning a new language from scratch and barely grasping the basics, the code for the app is largely done with three main basic functions: navigating between pages, loading image assets on appropriate pages and a search function (which is simplistic for a mobile app nowadays in the grand scheme of things, but an achievement for myself nonetheless). Now, the idea was to make an app as a reference tool for radiologists, so it goes without saying that we need plenty of image assets.

Drawing the assets

I thought the hardest part was to code the app but in hindsight, I probably spent the most time on getting all the images ready. We used a combination of example radiographic images or drawn figures depending on which would get the point across better. Throughout the entire process, I experimented with several drawing tools (stubbornly I did not get a drawing tablet, which would likely have made drawing infinitely easier) ranging from the classic MS Paint to the intricate Adobe Photoshop. I eventually settled on Sketchbook as my main software as it suited most of my needs, although I used a combination of several tools overall. To be completely honest, this was a highly specialised topic so I probably only knew the Garden classification for hip fractures amongst the 50+ musculoskeletal classifications we included in the initial version of the app. Thankfully, I was given good examples by my supervisor so I had a frame of reference. This took a long time to draw using a mouse, and I have gained a permanent fear of drawing the bony structure of the foot (particularly the metatarsals and phalanges).

Compiling the app

After several revisions to the app, we were ready to distribute it. I encountered several differences when I was trying to test it on Android vs iOS devices, with the latter being more convoluted with regards to sharing and testing. To distribute it to the MSK radiologists within the local department, we sent a sample APK to android users and a Testflight link for iOS users. We received great feedback and after some final changes, published it on the app stores for everyone to use.

Reflection and lessons learnt

Overall, this has been an extremely enjoyable, fulfilling and educational experience. Having been someone who is laser focused on being strategic for scoring portfolio points, this project showed a glimpse into the innovative side of medicine, which is important to appreciate and do not always fit into the traditionally-defined person specification for a good doctor/candidate for a specialist post. I have also learnt plenty of transferable skills such as representing pathologies on drawn images (helpful for creating figures to include in journal articles) and learning the basics of coding (I can embark on a journey to create separate versions for other radiology subspecialties or other medical specialties using the same structure). It is also a great topic to bring up during interviews or during daily conversation with my peers!


You can check out my app here (for iOS users) and here (for Android users). Admittedly it is relatively niche and useful mainly for MSK radiologists and perhaps orthopaedics, but feel free to comment (or leave a review!) on the general usability of the app.

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