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How We Think When Developing Healthcare Software

Bobby Gill | October 27, 2019

Kind of like a video game, there are several different difficulties in app development. There’s a whole spectrum of challenges in building software, ranging from easy to veteran mode – among the highest echelon of challenges are applications subjected to stringent data compliance policies. Of these more difficult development endeavors, building healthcare software is the veteran mode of building software – it requires precision and attention to detail.

From an outside perspective, healthcare software requirements seem like they should be consistent across the board. Those working in the field know that this isn’t the case. Aside from feature sets, there are variants that convolute the development process such as integrations with backend systems and other applications. And of course, everything has to be HIPAA compliant.

At Blue Label Labs, we understand the complexities of designing supplement apps for mHealth (i.e. the new blanket, industry slang for healthcare software) systems as well as how to build solutions from the ground up. When it comes to healthcare software, this is how we think when we build such solutions.

A cursory look at healthcare apps

Every practice in medical disciplines has different requirements for data retention which is subjected to the HITECH Act of 2009 in the US. To highly condense the provisions set forth by this plan, medical practices of all variations in the US (e.g. family doctors, dentists, optical practices, etc.) are now all required to implement software to retain data as well as easily and securely transmit information to other authorized entities.

This is a significant baseline for healthcare software – there are many other features besides data retention and record transmission capabilities that benefit businesses in this diverse field. Too, there are various other features that need to adhere to HIPAA compliance where every operation is ultimately subjected to these laws.

While some healthcare businesses benefit from rich feature sets, other establishments find that out-of-the-box solutions might include more (or less) features than necessary.

There are many different development paths for mHealth apps. Some seek a highly-specific application to supplement their business. In other cases, third-parties derive ideas they feel furnish mass appeal to practices on multiple disciplines.

Blue Label Labs comes in at the design portion that helps with solidifying the goals of software development then builds a working prototype of the model. Like other apps, this how we work through solving healthcare software development projects.

Design sprints for mHealth

All of our projects begin with a design sprint which is a five-day process where we work with you to help solidify the idea, create a prototype and collect feedback from a test group. With healthcare applications, it’s much the same.

Like other development projects, each healthcare software differs in design based on desired functionality and desired outcome. It’s crucial to hone in on the feature sets that will be effectively used by staff, whether it’s an internal development project or targeting a wider scope of providers.

Examples of existing high-performing healthcare software

There are a couple of companies that are worth looking into for their services in eHealth services. Let’s take a brief look at two companies with popular systems used across North America that also offer APIs that play nicely with different backend systems and third-party systems.

athenahealth – As one of the businesses beginning to dominate the healthcare software market, the athenahealth electronic medical records (EMR) system provides a modular set of services for healthcare services. Their goal is clinical operability which aims to securely interconnect different providers with relevant medical information for any given patient.

While athenahealth is a decent system on its own merit, not all providers find that it integrates properly with their backend data storage and may lack certain functions required for specific practice models. The athenanet system offers an open API for developers to push and pull data between systems securely. 

We’ve found that among all EMR providers, athenanet provides the easiest and most straightforward 3rd party integration story. Athenanet exposes a robust and straight forward HTTP REST API which makes it easy for developers to integrate with and doesn’t require the use of arcane health care focused protocols such as HL7. Further, it provides a straight forward single sign-on (SSO) facility, powered by Ping, which makes it very straightforward to weave together custom designed web apps into the EMR flow without requiring users to log in multiple times. 

Cerner – This system exists as a suite of tools for medical information services, acting as a full-fledged EMR system that handles everything from revenue cycles, billing, IT management as well as everything in between. The Cerner system has been designed to accommodate just about every element of electronic medical health services. 

Like the athenahealth system, Cerner offers open platform capabilities like athenahealth and other open platforms. Whether or not you’re using their data-storage portions of the EMR system they provide, we can use their tools to safely transmit data between apps or integrations we develop.

These are just a couple of examples of great existing solutions on the market – for those using either system, we can build supplemental apps that work in harmony with these (and other) healthcare solutions.

Building health software at Blue Label Labs

As we’ve mentioned, we start all projects with a design sprint. This allows our team to connect with you, comprehend your intentions and help you formulate the best design for your project. With such applications, there are a few key differences that need to be identified in the early phases of this process.

In some cases, it makes the most sense to build something from the ground up. Other times, it makes the most sense to create and integrate a supplemental solution (i.e technically, a third-party app) that works in conjunction with an existing system.

App integration – In some cases, the most applicable idea for healthcare software is an EMR integration. Not all healthcare solutions are holistic systems that cater to basically everything like the two providers outlined above. Even the two mentioned above aren’t perfect fits for all practices.

If you’re using one of the above systems, then we can build solutions “outside the box” of what they offer. Each referenced platform offers a solid API that allows us to design a custom solution specific to you or your client’s needs.

Full app development – Some may look at the existing solutions on the market and think to themselves, “Yeah, I can smoke the competition with my idea.” We’re down with that idea – we work through this idea during the design sprint and help you derive the best possible solution, based on your intentions. A healthcare app can take many forms so it boils down to a matter of consolidating intentions into a viable product that appeals to the audience where it will be marketed.

While some are best served by a third-party integration that gets the job done by riding the coattails of a bigger platform, a unique system may be the best answer. At Blue Label Labs, we know how to build effective software for the medical industry – minding all the data compliance regulations in place – by using the design sprint process and collecting feedback from a test group of “real users” who will interact with software as if in the field.

Blue Label Labs can build your healthcare software

Creating secure and functional software for the healthcare field is a challenging process – with the right team that can lead you through ideas and designs, there are several feature sets to consider for various practices. Great ideas require multiple angles to assess – we provide at least one of those angles as well as the additional eyes to truly refine your project goals.

Bobby Gill
Co-Founder & Chief Architect at BlueLabel | + posts

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