The pandemic took public health by surprise. As a result, the demand for medical services, medicines, and materials skyrocketed. Clinics and hospitals had to work harder than ever before. Patients wanted to monitor their health and consult with doctors remotely. In response to their demand, about 90,000 digital solutions appeared on the market. In 2020, when COVID-19 was at its peak, the number of software downloads increased by 25-135%. Since then, digital technologies have become an indispensable part of medicine. We’ll share a comprehensive guide to developing healthcare software that will help you create an efficient solution for Digital Health.
Types of healthcare software
According to the target audience, medical software is divided into two large groups:
- software for doctors and nurses;
- platforms for patients.
What is the purpose of healthcare programs?
Software for healthcare professionals
This group includes custom complex expensive digital solutions for the specific needs of a particular hospital, clinic, or laboratory. Applications for doctors include specific functions that depend on the characteristics of an organization. Such programs can be divided into the following groups:
- Platforms for remote patient monitoring.
Such applications help clinics and hospitals track and collect data on the health of their patients remotely. Platforms represent a complex system of connected devices and software. Sensors collect a patient’s vital signs: body temperature, blood pressure, blood oxygen and sugar levels, and other parameters. This information is stored in a central repository. The system analyzes the received data and transmits statistics to physicians responsible for the treatment.
Remote monitoring is more actively used outside the hospital to track:
- patients with chronic diseases;
- old people or those with limited mobility;
- postoperative patients;
- people living far from clinics.
Such RPM systems allow patients to receive professional treatment from home by remotely communicating with doctors. Thus, they may visit the hospital only in extreme cases. A 2019 Spyglass Consulting Group study shows that the development of remote monitoring platforms is a promising direction, with 88% of US clinics investing in RPM.
- Medical directories and databases.
These are platforms that collect professional knowledge in one place. Reference programs contain information about diseases, medicines, and current legislation.
Guided by these data, doctors clarify the diagnosis, find suitable methods of treatment, and choose and dose medicines correctly. They learn medical news and comply with industry regulations. These guides integrate with related applications such as telemedicine platforms, e-prescription management software, or mental health tracking systems.
- Social platforms for doctors.
There are websites and online communities of doctors who share professional knowledge with their colleagues. Doctors, nurses, students, and scientists consult each other on patient care and new methods of treating diseases. They discuss difficult cases from their clinical practice and comment on the effectiveness of the invented drugs. Specialists view webinars posted online or learn about professional conferences.
- Electronic health records.
EHRs/EMRs are the digital equivalent of handwritten medical records. They include information regarding a patient’s health: vaccinations, chronic diseases, medical history, and test results. Such applications simplify the control over the treatment and recovery of a patient. They help to treat people from anywhere in the world and remotely monitor their state of health.
EHRs/EMRs simplify such internal processes of clinics as making appointments, examining patients, issuing prescriptions, and adherence to treatment regimens. Some of them are automated and relieve employees from routine tasks. Hospital staff complete procedures faster and with fewer errors. In some cases, coordinated work leads to an increase in revenue by an average of 11%.
- Hospital management software.
Such software solutions help to optimize the work of a medical organization, reduce costs, skillfully manage personnel and inventory, and comply with the law. With custom healthcare software, an institution allocates resources more rationally and reduces the workload of the staff. Specialists find the right equipment faster and care for patients better. They closely monitor data important for work, more accurately maintain documentation, monitor the dates of admission, and control the payment of invoices. In other words, such software unites paperwork, accounting, personnel, and legal work in one place.
There are also practice management software, revenue cycle management systems, data analytics applications, and more. The essence of HMS is facilitating and optimizing the work of healthcare institutions.
Software for patients
This group includes platforms for maintaining the physical and mental health of a person. Some of them have a serious scientific justification and are used together with the attending physicians. The rest are less complicated and are used without a doctor’s supervision (activity trackers, calorie calculators).
- Applications for diagnosing diseases.
Such a platform turns your smartphone into a tool for self-diagnosis. Programs track heart function, predict cancer, impending epileptic attacks, or diagnose COVID-19. Algorithms make it possible to detect the risk of a disease long before it reaches an acute stage. Patients go to the doctor to be treated in time. They can do it at home and without complications.
- Platforms for monitoring treatment regimens.
Such a system allows patients to control the course of chronic diseases or adhere to a treatment regimen. The program prescribes a schedule for taking medications, dates of laboratory tests, and visits to the doctor. Reminders are set so that a patient does not miss medications.
A user takes the necessary measurements (blood sugar, blood pressure, heartbeat, and other vital signs) and sends the data through the application to the attending physician. The doctor evaluates the effectiveness of treatment and corrects it. Some programs tell the specialist when the patient needs an ambulance. So, healthcare professionals arrive on time and help a person if they have a heart attack. The platform ensures that the patient is safe even if there is no one around.
- Doctor appointment applications.
These systems simplify the process of registering a patient with a doctor. A person does not need to spend time arriving at the reception desk, making phone calls, and finding out the work schedule of a specialist. The client receives online access to the schedule of doctors and fills out a registration form. The program enters the event in the calendar and at the right time reminds them of the upcoming visit to the doctor. The user also has the right to cancel the meeting, freeing up time for others.
Often, such software integrates with an EHR/EMR and automatically loads the necessary data into it. So, the doctor does not have to manually enter the patient’s personal data. The consultation is faster and better because the specialist pays more attention to the patient, rather than paperwork.
The rest of the programs are consumer mobile applications for tracking physical activity, sleep or diet quality, and fitness platforms. They are not related to the diagnosis and treatment of diseases, and the patient controls the indicators without the doctor’s help.
7 features to include in healthcare software
The type of software determines its functionality. But there are basic things to be aware of when planning healthcare software development. You should include the following features in your application:
- Patient monitoring. Since the start of the pandemic, visits to clinics and hospitals have dropped by more than 60%. Consultations have moved online. If you plan to create an application for telemedicine, diagnosis, or monitoring of diseases, it is important to provide a mechanism for collecting vital signs. Only then will it be possible to remotely monitor and treat patients. Otherwise, custom medical software will lose its value.
- Reminders of a visit to the doctor, drug and water intake, and other events that require regularity and discipline. Without this seemingly simple mechanism, treatment will be ineffective.
- Doctor’s profile. Applications for patients should have a separate section with specialist questionnaires. A user can study information about doctors (education, work experience, and reviews) and choose a trustworthy specialist.
- Channels of communication with the doctor. The platform should include options for communicating with the doctor: via video call, phone, or chat. The more ways are available to the user, the more comfortable it is for them to consult on health issues. And the doctor has more opportunities to make the correct diagnosis and prescribe treatment.
- Geolocation. This is a convenient feature for patients who find themselves in an unfamiliar city and need an ambulance. They can quickly find the nearest hospital on the map.
- Payment processing service. Patients should be able to pay for medical services safely and seamlessly. The system should support user-friendly payment options.
Users like it when an application allows them to view statistics and get an electronic prescription. It should be integrated with IoT devices. If it is impossible to implement these functions right away, you can gradually include them at the request of users as your product develops.
Legislation that medical software must comply with
Healthcare software collects and stores personal data about patients: contact information, medical history, and payment details. This makes medical software one of the main targets for cybercriminals. In 2020, medicine was among the top five industries that were hit hardest by cyberattacks. Cybersecurity Ventures noted that by 2025, the number of incidents will grow by 2-3 times.
Therefore, it is important that custom healthcare software protects customer data and complies with industry regulations that vary by region. When a customer plans to develop a digital solution, they should make sure that their IT partner, a healthcare software development company, knows the legal regulations and can implement them in practice:
- To enter the US market, an application must comply with HIPAA regulations, state law (like CCPA), and GDPR. Mobile platforms associated with EHRs/EMRs must also comply with NIST guidelines for protecting customer data.
- Applications created for Canadian users are built according to the requirements of PIPEDA.
- In the United Kingdom, the software is created under the Data Protection Act 1988.
- Medical software released for the EU market must comply with GDPR requirements.
Industry legislation cannot be ignored because the owner of healthcare software risks getting a fine. In the worst case, they will have to deal with the consequences of a cyberattack and restore the company’s reputation.
A step-by-step plan for healthcare software development
When the software type, its main functions, and the regulatory framework are determined, you can start a healthcare software development project. The process can be easily described in five steps:
- Research the market.
Researchers at the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science found that there are over 350,000 medical applications available on the market. How to stand out from the competition and offer patients a unique digital solution?
You should conduct a detailed study of the market, target audience, and competitors. Determine user needs and consider how new software will solve customer problems. Learn from the example of your competitors but bring new useful features to your product that will make it unique.
If your target audience is medical personnel, talk with doctors, nurses, and administration. Understand what they lack and how they would like to improve their work. If the application is built for patients, conduct a small user survey to make your system practical and up to date.
- Create the app design.
The appearance of an application depends on its target audience. The older generation likes simple navigation, large buttons, and large fonts. Young users prefer a bright and unusual interface. At the same time, the design of an application for medical professionals is different from platforms for patients.
The design will either spoil the product or attract new users. Therefore, allocate time and funds for UX/UI research to think through the conceptual design which will work in a real environment and appeal to the audience.
- Create a minimum viable product.
Healthcare software solutions are a labor-intensive and expensive undertaking that involves many experts. Therefore, it is too risky to implement a project intuitively. It is better to test the idea in the market to match the vision of the business and its users. This can be done with the help of an MVP (minimum viable product). This is the basic version of a program containing critical functions and able to work in the market.
An MVP is released 1-3 months after the start of a project. Users obtain the product and begin to respond to its performance. They write reviews, communicate with the support service, and advertise the platform to their friends. A company sees that the idea works in the market and continues to invest in the project. The product develops, acquires new functions, and expands the target audience.
When users don’t like a new digital solution, a business curtails it. But its costs are not as high as they would be in the case of developing a full-fledged product. Thus, an MVP ensures the business against financial losses.
- Develop and test your healthcare software.
When the idea has proven relevant in the market, the team continues to develop the product:
- they study user reviews, their wishes, comments, and suggestions;
- add new features to the software product;
- test updates;
- release an updated version into production.
The “ball” is gradually growing until the MVP turns into a full-fledged relevant product with a loyal target audience.
- Maintain your healthcare software.
A medical project does not end with development. The application needs to be maintained, libraries and frameworks updated, and security and system performance monitored. Therefore, customers often find a technology partner responsible for outsourced IT support. This is a sure step to preventing critical program crashes.
Healthcare software development projects are like marathon runners: everyone starts, but few reach the finish line successfully. And this success is influenced by how the customer understands the market and the target audience, how well they know the industry legislation, and whether they have experience in managing medical projects. But the key factor is choosing the right IT partner familiar with the issues of healthcare software development and knowing how to properly build project work. Such a company will conduct market research, create a working design, and grow an efficient application from an MVP.