There’s definitely something tempting about out-of-the-box software products, no matter their type or industry. Their costs are always definite, as you pay for the already complete development processes. They give you the solution you need in a matter of a few days instead of months. What’s more, you don’t have to spend time and efforts on communication with a vendor, whether it’s a weekly review or daily feedback.
However, there’s one great disadvantage: off-the-shelf software can’t meet multiple and diverse needs, so in most cases it ends up meeting only those of the product owners. This is especially true for the healthcare industry, where the needs of the users are too varied and complicated in nature for a ready-made product to satisfy them. When brought into the mobile environment, these needs turn into real challenges and become even more difficult to meet.
Let’s review off-the-shelf healthcare apps and compare them to the real needs of hospital app users.
What off-the-shelf hospital app developers are after
1. Fast and cheap delivery to market
The market of hospital mobile software is quite competitive, so to get its share, off-the-shelf product developers have to release their apps as fast as they can. Naturally, this hustle can’t bring great results. The more rushed a product is, the higher are the chances that it will be flawed. What’s more, product developers can intentionally minimize certain stages to save time, and the results of this can sometimes be grave.
Some stages can be ignored completely in an attempt to reduce production costs and give a product a more reasonable price. Since the costs of business analysis are always rather unpredictable, many companies prefer to skip it entirely. As a result, no real industry research of customers’ business is made and many of the challenges aren’t even acknowledged, say nothing of addressed, in the software functionality.
2. Salable functionality
Out-of-the-box products should attract as many customers as possible to have their production justified. For this reason, product owners often make a shrewd decision to cater to the needs of the largest group of healthcare professionals – primary care physicians.
Yet, universal functionality isn’t always convenient even among PCPs, who all work under different conditions and have different needs. It’s only natural that by making the functionality mostly PCP-focused and general, developers make their product inefficient – if not completely useless – for physicians of other specializations.
3. Integration with their own desktop and web systems
Integration is necessary to make the best of any enterprise mobile solution. Without it, all the actions performed in the app wouldn’t have any effect outside of it, meaning that it wouldn’t update the changed data in other systems. It goes without saying that such apps wouldn’t receive data from other in-house systems either.
However, each product owner has their individual data required for integration, and, mainly for security reasons, no developer would want to disclose it. So, if you already have an EHR system from one vendor, the chances that you’ll successfully integrate an off-the-shelf app developed by another vendor are quite low. The only way out here would be developing middleware, but product developers rarely, if ever, provide this option as a service.
What off-the-shelf hospital app developers tend to disregard
1. Apps should adapt to healthcare professionals’ hectic workflow
The workflow of healthcare professionals is less ordered than one can imagine. Although they do have a schedule, their workday routine is quite irregular. Once a caregiver starts working on one task, they can be interrupted with a more pressing one. This kind of workflow has even created an industry-specific task category known as ‘interrupted tasks’.
Mobile solutions should use this opportunity to address the problem of healthcare professionals’ workflow. Instead of being simply a mobile-friendly version of a desktop solution (like most of the ready-made products), they should offer a totally different approach to performing tasks. For instance, they could allow for work in chunks and make it easier to get back to the interrupted tasks.
2. Apps don’t have only one user
We’ve already mentioned that it’s more lucrative for product owners to focus on functionality for a wider audience than on a narrow area of expertise that wouldn’t bring them many customers. That’s why most of the existing out of the box healthcare apps are targeted at PCPs.
However, even PCP-related tasks aren’t performed by primary care physicians alone; nurses, lab experts, and administration participate in different stages of a healthcare delivery process as well. Even if all these healthcare professionals have the same patients, their tasks and approaches to care differ a lot. When a ready-made PCP app doesn’t reflect this difference, it covers only a few of the many stages of caregiving.
3. Apps should be simple
As opposed to lacking functionality, the other extreme that developers of out-of-the-box solutions often run into is overabundance of features. Some ready-made hospital apps try to cater to multiple needs of various users and turn into a very complex product. Excessive functionality entails an even more complex interface, making an app have a negatively overwhelming impression on its users.
Yet, a hospital app should be assisting, not posing new challenges to their user. What’s more, a healthcare professional should rather see their own working patterns reflected in the app than be bound to learn new patterns in order to communicate with an app. So, if a caregiver can’t easily navigate an app from the get go, it isn’t the fault of a caregiver; it’s just a poorly designed app.
The needs of healthcare professionals and out-of-the-box product developers are too far away from each other to be satisfied simultaneously. As a result, ready-made hospital apps mostly meet the needs of product owners alone and offer a rather poor experience to healthcare professionals.
Since the rules are different for custom app development, it has better chances in meeting the needs of both developers and caregivers. Tailored to a facility or a department, custom hospital apps can include all the necessary features, while considering specific working conditions and having a simple and user-friendly UI.
Anastasia Yaskevich is an Enterprise Mobility Researcher at ScienceSoft, a software development and consulting company headquartered in McKinney, Texas. She started out in IT with research on cloud computing and UI design, and now writes on mobile technology and mobile design trends. With her interest in psychology and experience in managing employee satisfaction surveys, Anastasia taps in HR-related technologies and overviews the concepts of mobile HRM applications.