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Exploring Low-Code, Outsourcing for Healthcare App Development

Organizations have options to explore for healthcare app development as they acclimate themselves to a cloud environment.

healthcare app development

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Healthcare app development is a critical IT infrastructure step, but choosing how to handle the development process depends on how many apps will be developed, what they will be used for, and what IT staff can handle in-house.

Healthcare applications need to be developed with privacy, security, and compliance in mind, as well as clearly outlined objectives. This calls for developers that have experience in healthcare app development or the use of tools with healthcare-compliant application programming interfaces (APIs).

“An idea that’s changed lately is the idea that large healthcare enterprises have their own development shops,” CareCloud CTO Josh Siegel told HITInfrastructure.com.

Organizations don’t have to rely on software vendors to produce applications; they can employ their own developers and data scientists to create tools. These developers have access to the data that is collected by EHRs, research, pharmacy data, and other sources to build software on top of.

The current state of application development makes this possible because it’s easier to access the data.

READ MORE: How to Build a Successful Healthcare Mobility Solution

The quality of a software or application development staff depends on how much funding an organization has and how long they have been leveraging the cloud. Cloud-based applications are scalable, and the more mature an organization is using the cloud, the more familiar developers become with the healthcare cloud.

“Then organizations are able to innovate up the stack,” said ClearDATA Chief Privacy and Security Officer Chris Bowen. “As organizations become familiar with how to use the cloud, their needs change.”

Getting IT staff familiar with the cloud is the first step to deploying successful applications in the cloud. Organizations can use tools like low-code development platforms and outsource app development while IT staff gets familiar with the more familiar with the cloud.

Low-code platforms are “platforms that enable rapid delivery of business applications with a minimum of hand-coding and minimal upfront investment in setup, training, and deployment,” according to Forrester.

Low-code and no-code development platforms give non-developers the opportunity to create apps. Organizations don’t need to bid against other entities for experienced developers because users can create their own apps with the help of one developer instead of a team of developers.

READ MORE: Addressing Healthcare Network Connectivity Challenges

The real value in low-code development platforms is that the vendor manages everything for the organization, according to Caspio VP of Market Development Valaine Anderson. The application building, the infrastructure, and the compliance requirements are handled by the vendor so the organization can focus on the applications they are trying to build.

“If a low-code platform can fulfill all their project requirements while also taking care of compliance it can be a good fit,” Anderson told HITInfrastructure.com. “Over time, as an organization continues to deploy applications, they can use the low code platforms to build applications for other departments.”

Low-code platforms allow non-developers to take weight off of IT staff by letting the users develop their own apps.

“It’s easy for developers to build the application through the tool, demonstrate it to their organization via a proof of concept or a prototype, and quickly make adjustments or improvements so it can be deployed,” Anderson explained.

Organizations that are still getting familiar with the cloud or have an IT department that is spread thin can still leverage custom applications by enlisting end-users to develop the frontend, while the developer makes sure everything ties into the backend.

READ MORE: Using Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) for Healthcare Data Security

“The majority of our healthcare customers building the initial concept and prototype are non-developers,” she said.

“These are people on the front lines such as clinicians, operations, and field management. They are the ones who bring back the proof of concept to show the team. If needed, IT gets involved to help out with the more in-depth integration requirements or other technical things that are needed in order to transfer data back and forth between systems,” she added.

Outsourcing developers is another way organizations can build custom apps while acclimating to cloud environment.

Outsourcing gives organizations the opportunity to work with experienced IT staff that they don’t have to hire as an expensive specialist for all development tasks.

A Black Book survey found that healthcare organizations are becoming less satisfied with their outsourcing experience. However, their dissatisfaction does not discourage them from outsourcing.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents said that they expect their usage of IT outsourcing to continue at current levels through 2019, and 34 percent think there will be an increase in IT outsourcing over the next two years.

While not ideal, outsourcing IT staff is a way to contract experts when they are needed and let them go when projects are over.

These two options are stepping stones for organizations to build up their cloud infrastructure to a place where they can develop applications in-house using all the data collected from EHRs, research projects, and other patient data sources.

Once organizations can hire their own development staff, tools with open APIs are available. Developers can build custom versions of existing apps and work with third-party vendors to create tools that cater to an organization’s specific needs. In the meantime, seeking out other app development options allows clinicians and patients the benefit of digital tools.

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