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Challenges of Building In-House Health IT Applications

End-users can potentially assist healthcare IT developers by building their own custom enterprise health IT apps.

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

Research points to an increase in custom enterprise applications over the next few years, but is the healthcare industry ready to build in-house health IT applications?

RMADs for healthcare app development.

Healthcare professionals are known for being on the move and needing information quickly. Vendor-maintained software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps go a long way toward assisting healthcare workers in their clinical workflows, but custom applications unique to each healthcare organization can be more finely tailored to individuals or departments.

Analysts at Gartner foresee inward-facing enterprise apps becoming essential to the function and performance of large and small-scale IT infrastructure by creating custom apps and app sets for each department.

Not only can applications give users organized and convenient access to essential data, but they can also provide heightened security and can be compartmentalized when created and stored in containers.

That being said, healthcare organizations will need to overcome certain obstacles create custom apps. Budget restrictions and lack of staffed developers represent major roadblocks to healthcare institutions and lack of both could derail development.

Custom enterprise apps can be built by purchasing a development platform and having in-house staff or contracted developers build the apps. Contracting an outside developer may not be the best option for the healthcare industry. Lack of control over the development process can lead to dissatisfaction with the layout or missing elements. Outsourced developers may not maintain and patch the apps once they are released to an organization.Contracted developers can also become expensive if more than one app is desired.

Embracing a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) model to access electronic health information leaves room for custom apps to be developed in-house. Healthcare organizations that don’t have a developer on staff will need to hire one, and if multiple apps are planned, then more than one developer will be needed.

Apps are not completed once they are deployed for general use throughout an organization. Organizations will need to supply patches after deployment to fix glitches and errors users come across. Each time an operating system is upgraded, the apps need to be modified.

Currently there are not enough enterprise app developers to meet the demand for custom apps which app development platforms vendors are recognizing. Some vendors now offer rapid mobile app development platforms (RMADs) or low-code development options.

These development platforms provide templates or drag-and-drop methods to create secure and functioning custom apps and do not require an experienced developer to build. Citizen developers are end-users who are commissioned to build the custom enterprise app they will be using.

Utilizing citizen developers can be hugely beneficial for the healthcare industry relative to the usability of apps. Enterprise apps are not immune to the usability pitfalls of consumer apps. If users do not like an app or find that it is hindering their workflow, they will find ways around using it.

Different healthcare departments may be accessing the same information but may want to access it in a different way. The clinic has health data needs different than those of administration, so using the same app for both departments may not be productive.

Allowing end-users to have a hand in creating their app can also help increase uptake. Involving staff members and giving them a say in how they retrieve and modify data within the app will make adoption easier when the app is ready to be deployed.

Although end-users are building the front-end of these applications, developers are still needed to make sure the backend is functioning properly. RMADs and low-code platforms are not substitutions for experienced developers, but one developer can manage and maintain more apps.

The backend of user-developed apps still need to be compatible with the rest of an organization’s health IT infrastructure and meet required security standards.

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