There’s always a learning curve when any industry turns to healthcare software companies, but it’s a particularly deep chasm between tech and medicine. Both sides are highly technical, but that’s where the similarities stop — different cultures, different languages, different expectations about the role of software in healthcare.
Success depends on building effective bridges.
If you’re on the medicine side of the chasm reaching out to the many healthcare software vendors, it can be difficult to know where the conversation should even start. You have to decide what software for healthcare providers should do. You have to figure out whether it’s for web or mobile or both, you have to figure out which healthcare software vendor can build you the best product, then you have to work with them to build it, and all throughout all of that, you have to keep everyone on your side of the canyon in agreement.
It’s not a surprise then, that so many people faced with designing healthcare software applications just end up dumping a huge list of features into an RFP, sending it out and hoping for the best. It feels like the safest option, but in fact, it’s often the worst way to go.
The top healthcare software companies have skills to bring to the table, but you have to let them. Building a truly great product requires blending your industry expertise with your healthcare software provider’s understanding of design and code. Here’s how to find the right partner, then create an environment for true collaboration.
What to watch out for when choosing between healthcare software companies
A good relationship with your software consultant will look much like the ones in medicine. We go to doctors because we trust them, and we also need to tell them the truth about our behavior and give them data. The right healthcare software company won’t jump to conclusions or propose fixes to only parts of the problem. They’ll listen to everything and give you a holistic solution.
You should do work to understand what solutions you need healthcare software to provide. Instead of using those ideas to create a rigid list of requirements though, consider them a springboard for conversations with healthcare development firms. If you already know what you need, you’ll know enough to evaluate what they’re offering. That, plus looking for these three best practices for healthcare software companies, will help guide you to the right decision.
Healthcare software developers must step into your world to do their best work — and you, theirs
It’s good to remember that training in healthcare is kind of like being an Olympic athlete. You’ve been swimming in the same ocean for decades. You’re living an entirely different life than the developers and designers building your software, and until you find a way to meet in the middle, you can’t do effective work.
There’s so much complexity hidden in people’s stories and experiences, and technologists can’t know what you need until they get that context — just like a doctor would never use a medical device manufactured by someone who’d never visited a hospital.
At the beginning of the project, find a way to share context. Invite your healthcare software team to follow you on rounds or in clinic, and make time to sit with them in their environment too. It’s so crucial to establishing the trust and context that you’ll need throughout the project. It’s also incredibly simple — you just need people to be willing to learn. If a team doesn’t visit you in person, don’t hire them. And if they don’t invite you into their space, don’t hire them.
Find someone who can translate between the “healthcare” and “software” parts of the healthcare software industry
As you’re working to tear down that wall, you need to make sure you have someone on your team and/or someone on your tech partner’s team who can translate between the two halves. There are huge differences between healthcare practitioners — who have a regimented career path and an enormous amount of experience when they start practicing — and designers and developers — who eschew hierarchy and tradition and have had to learn new skills on the fly. Look for someone who can respect your processes and help you plug into theirs.
Language is also a very real barrier, so you want to work with a medical software company that has experience. Even if not everyone on your team can understand doctor’s shorthand or administrator’s regulatory pressures, one or two people who can speak to both sides will be invaluable.
M&M or retro — make sure your healthcare software company will learn with you
Doctors do morbidity and mortality assessments because it’s crucial for them to learn from mistakes and successes and apply those learnings to the next patient. Software is no different. If your healthcare development company works in Agile — and they should — they’ll break the project down into sections, then do retrospectives after each piece to learn how to improve the next iteration.
In software, a retro is basically an M&M — a chance to reflect back on what worked and didn’t work, correct mistakes, and move forward with better knowledge. Make sure your software team is going to learn and improve with you.
How to collaborate with healthcare software providers
Even after you’ve found the right software company, that team is only responsible for the technology side of your healthcare application — it’s on you to provide the industry expertise. The best healthcare software comes out of close collaboration, so prepare yourself and your team to dive in with these four tips.
Acknowledge, then quiet, your inner regulator to design a healthcare software system based on the possible
Regulations in healthcare must be accounted for — but they can’t be driving software development, or you’ll never get past “no.” When we start a software project at Table XI, we pick from a number of different discovery activities designed to identify problems and brainstorm solutions. If your inner regulator is on, it’ll kill every idea before it has a chance to mature. So you have to turn off the critical voice in your own head.
If we can brainstorm freely — while still knowing where the regulatory guardrails are — we can create software that’s focused on the solution, rather than fixating on what can’t happen. Then, once we have a strong idea, we can figure out how to trim it back if need be to stay on the right side of regulations.
Get out of the box and lean on your software vendor’s non-healthcare expertise
If we’re going to get people thinking outside of the box, we need to actually get them out of the box. Shake up the conference room meeting: get coffee, go for walks, stand and place stickies on a wall, just switch the environment so it breaks up the regular thought patterns and encourages creativity.
Similarly, you need to think outside of the healthcare industry. Innovation is everywhere, so figure out how you can take a great idea from another market and translate it into yours. Even the most medical-focused software companies should be able to toss out examples from clients that have nothing to do with healthcare at all. It’s a great way to seed new ideas.
Schedule healthcare software development like another shift
The one thing our experience has taught us most consistently — people in healthcare are busy. The only way a meeting is going to happen is if it’s a regular part of the work day. Make sure you and your team set a rhythm and stick with it, because one-off meetings will just get delayed in perpetuity.
The other benefit of adding it to your regular work shifts: Development will feel more like necessary, valuable work than a side project.
Make room for your healthcare application company to learn about blind spots for software with user testing
There are just so many idiosyncrasies in healthcare, whether it’s a filing system or a procedural quirk or even just differences in bodies that lead to differences in treatment. You’ll never be able to account for all the ways people will use your software for healthcare, so make a plan at the start to simulate everyday use. You’ll get important feedback about how it’s used in real life, in all kinds of different scenarios. Finding and testing those edge cases is the only way you’ll really know if you’ve built something that works in the real world.
Partnering with a healthcare software provider works best when you plan for the differences
We’ve all experienced healthcare software that just does not do its job. The communication wasn’t there, the skills weren’t shared and the resulting product doesn’t really do anything for anybody. But if you go into a software project knowing that fate is possible, you can avoid it.
Instead of trying to flatten the differences and find a healthcare software company that looks and sounds exactly like you, seek out a partner that’s going to bring valuable outside experience and opinions, then blend them with your own specific expertise and needs. Then, stay open to that collaboration. It may seem like more work up front, but it’s significantly more rewarding than feeling at odds with your tech provider. And most importantly, it’s the only way to get a product that truly makes your workday better.
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