HFE Mobile App Review Process


The VHA Office of Health Informatics Human Factors Engineering (HFE) works with developers to ensure that mobile applications (apps) meet usability standards and “acceptable use” criteria. The HFE compliance review ensures that an app meets an acceptable level of usability for the end user. This is done by identifying any issues that would lead to end user dissatisfaction with the app. When HFE receives a compliance review request from the app developer, HFE conducts a Heuristic Evaluation (HE), (VA Network Access Required: https://dvagov.sharepoint.com/sites/vhahumanfactors/boksitepages/methods...) where a human factors expert evaluates the app against a pre-defined set of widely accepted usability heuristics (considered standards of best practices in both business and academia), and then reports any issues found, categorized as “Serious”, “Moderate”, or “Minor” severity.

What is a Heuristic Evaluation?

HEs are not a pass/fail metric. The purpose of an HE is to identify issues that are expected to impact use in a negative way. The “Serious”, “Moderate”, and “Minor” ratings indicate how likely the issue is to impact a user’s experience with the app. HFE recommends addressing all “Serious” issues if possible, and, as resources allow, addressing “Moderate” and “Minor” issues. HFE will work with the app development team to track any changes made, along with justifications for why certain changes might not be pursued for each finding.

HEs offer a number of benefits for development teams compared to other HFE methods:

  • HEs can be completed at various points in the development process.
  • HEs typically do not require advance planning.
  • HEs can typically be turned around approximately one week, depending on size.
  • HEs can serve as a pretest for user testing if additional testing is needed.

What is Usability Testing?

In some cases HFE may recommend or require additional evaluations, such as usability testing. Usability testing is usually done when end-user input and perspective can provide additional insight into an app's usability. Like HEs, Usability Testing can be done at various points throughout the development process. There are two types of Usability Testing methods, and the final determination on which method HRE recommends is made in collaboration with the app development team.

Benefits of Engaging HFE Early

App development teams are also encouraged to notify HFE when apps are registered. By working closely with HFE early in the app development process, the development team can ensure that its app will be intuitive, engaging, and well received by the end user.

The following steps describe how an app development team might engage HFE for iterative expert reviews prior to the final compliance review:

  1. App developers request a review of a completed set of mock-ups (wireframes) or a partially completed app at any time before or during development. Developers provide HFE with the mock-ups or test environment and any associated documentation. A meeting is scheduled to discuss the app and address any clarifying questions.
  2. HFE conducts an initial evaluation of the app. This evaluation typically results in annotated screenshots and a findings table. The document is returned to developers as early as one week from the initial meeting.
  3. Business Owners and developers review the evaluation and document a response for each finding. Responses are discussed in a follow-up meeting with HFE.
  4. This process repeats at intervals appropriate to the app’s development; ideally, HFE will review after each significant change.

In addition to expert reviews, HFE recommends development teams consider involving end users as often as possible.

Note: The HFE User Interface (UI) Design Confirmation Review is a separate compliance review requirement.

HFE is managed under the Clinical Informatics and Data Management Office (CIDMO)

For more information pertaining to Human Factors Engineering, please refer to our Human Factors Engineering SharePoint site (VA Network Access Required: https://dvagov.sharepoint.com/sites/vhahumanfactors/SitePages/HFE%20Divi...)

If you would like to request HFE services, please contact VHA10p2HFQ@va.gov


Jakob Nielsen: Ten Usability Heuristics

BJ Fogg: Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do