The latest in our series of app maker profiles, ACT’s Melissa Lee interviews developer Harold Smith. Harold created RxmindMe, the #1 rated Prescription Management App for the iPhone which was acquired by Walgreens, a Fortune 30 company, in September 2011. RxmindMe has been featured in such publications as New York Times to Gizmodo.
How did you get started in app development? What’s your background?
I had never programmed a line of code in my life before I started at Virginia Tech’s Computer Science program back in 2000. There, I started to learn C++, taught myself Java and C#. I graduated in 2004 and, up until last year, mainly did contracting with federal agencies.
I started mobile app development on my own back in 2008 when iOS first released their SDK. Since then, I have had a focus on mHealth and security related mobile products.
Why did you choose healthcare/mHealth apps, especially with the special challenges that developers face, like navigating HIPPA, the FDA, etc.?
At first, it was that I just found it interesting. Well, actually, it was more selfish than that. I had to take one pill a day and kept forgetting. I developed my first app, RxmindMe, simply to remind myself to take the medication. My then-girlfriend, now wife, convinced me to release it to the App Store.
From there, it became more of a pursuit to help people. I received a ton of feedback from people telling me how much the app helped them and improved their lives. From just keeping track of everything, to actually being able to understand what they need to do to care for themselves. For instance, someone with a terminal disease found comfort in being able to see what was in front of them, in terms of medication. Those small stories inspired me personally.
As far as HIPAA and the FDA, HIPAA was the most important aspect. We all want our medical information to remain ours and not get out there. My background working with the federal government and building secure, encrypted applications gave me a different angle to purse mobile development with. The skill set of using encryption, encrypted database contents, files, etc., lent itself to making this easier.
After all, HIPAA is more of a framework than anything of what you should do. I feel all mobile apps (regardless of mHealth apps or not) should be following such guidelines, to protect their user information. It helps build better and more secure software.
What are some of the obstacles you face as a developer that you wish you could change? Are there resources you would recommend?
I think the proposed guidelines by the FDA are the most troublesome as far as mHealth goes. We are seeing a boom in interest in health care as related to mobile devices. True disruption is coming to a market that is so set in their ways.
While I think the FDA guidelines provide value, I think there needs to be a good balance of regulation and letting people innovate. Setting a multi-month or even year-long cycle of innovation due to regulations will destroy the market.
There is just a lot of uncertainty, for startups and indie developers. If anything, the FDA should be helping these people navigate the issues and build better products.
What do you, or app developers generally, need most in order to have continued success?
We need an environment that fosters success. That’s why organizations like ACT are so important—that’s exactly what they do on behalf of app developers, and they keep us up-to-date on what Washington is doing that could have serious impact on our ability to grow and innovate. And local groups, such as MoDevDC where developers can talk and collaborate, are an amazing help. It allows networking with other developers, business connections, and contacts to people outside of your social circles. Being outside of Silicon Valley, we sometimes take what we can get, but we have an amazing app developer network here in DC. People are always willing to help and lend an ear. That sense of community really helps.