At Table XI, we work to learn everything we can about the businesses we work with. In healthcare, that means talking to industry leaders about how they approach technology, and how consultants like us can work best with them. Dr. Elif Oker — senior healthcare executive, Blue Cross Blue Shield alum and founder of InSun Solutions, a health care and technology advisory focused on increasing the success rate of healthcare tech — walked us through her perspective on how healthcare and software can come together.
It can be all too easy for developers in healthcare to come at problems with unearned confidence. After all, here at Table XI, we create technology solutions all day. Surely we can bring a little disruption to these seemingly musty systems, liberating healthcare providers from clunky electronic health records and wowing them with slick software products.
If you do work in healthcare, you’re probably already rolling your eyes. If you don’t, just know: It’s not that simple.
Software developers and designers are used to operating in a world where “move fast and break things” is the driving motto. That is … not what you want to hear from your surgeon. In healthcare, the motto is “Do no harm” because it has to be. It’s not that healthcare professionals are too slow to grasp brilliant ideas — they are highly educated, remember. They just know how high the consequences can be for anything less than your best work.
Designers and developers in healthcare must respect and adapt
For the healthcare industry to feel comfortable with developers and designers, they have to know that they’re dealing with people who understand the awesome responsibility that comes with looking after patients. Without that trust, doctors and medical professionals won't be inclined to work with them, and they certainly won’t be inclined to learn from them.
Rapid iteration, minimum viable products, disruption — all of these things can be of great value. For healthcare developers to create workable solutions, they have to understand the space. Yes, that includes the customer journey, but it also includes compliance, regulations and the realities of patients’ and caregivers’ day-to-day lives and medical science.
Instead of coming in hot with ideas, developers and designers looking to play in healthcare should be prepared to admit what they don’t know, ask questions, and hear the answers — even when they don’t like them. This is the only way to start building a bridge between healthcare and tech - by proving that both sides hold the same values sacred and appreciate the consequences of getting it wrong.
Learning from the mistakes of past medical programming
If people in healthcare have their guard up against technology, it’s with good reason. Historically, new tools haven’t worked out great for them. Too often, software in healthcare is clunky, poorly designed, labor-intensive and glitchy. For people coming off a 36-hour call or 18 hours in the OR, having to sit down at a computer and update a faulty system is a waste of hours that can be far better used treating patients (or getting much-needed sleep).
Perhaps the best and worst example of this is electronic health records. Despite the fact that many health systems and practices use some big name EHRs, these systems are rarely interoperable and can't share information. Then there’s the challenge of using it — multiple pages mean multiple clicks as a doctor focuses on data entry, not the patient in front of them. All these tedious little frustrations add up to an industry where 50 to 70 percent of physicians experience burnout due to the stress of maintaining electronic medical records.
Earning the trust needed to build great healthcare software
To set yourself apart from product companies that suck up resources and deliver little, you have prove to healthcare providers that you can enable their calling.
- Be respectful of slow-moving systems — even if they frustrate you.
- Know what you know, and know what you don’t know. Healthcare expertise cannot be Googled.
- Be humble and do your homework. Don’t assume that your personal experience with healthcare defines the problem you are trying to solve.
- Spend time with patients, providers and administrators. You need all perspectives to learn how the system really works
The consequences of bad software are high — the consequences of bad healthcare are higher
In technology, people are used to high stakes — millions of dollars, critical transactions, ever-changing security threats. In healthcare, that math all reduces down to something much more consequential: whether people live or die.
No matter how much developers and designers grow to understand healthcare, they’ll never have to look a frantic loved one in the eyes and say, “I’m sorry, we did everything we could.” Understanding that — and humbly embracing the awesome responsibility that comes along with it — is the first step to building healthcare software right.