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How An Agile Approach Works in Healthcare Software Projects

20 Jul, 21 | Dan Prince

How An Agile Approach Works in Healthcare Software Projects

Many modern software developers work by bringing an imperfect product to market quickly and subsequently modifying the product in the light of user feedback and other stakeholder considerations. A more refined version is then released, the cycle continues, and users ultimately end up with a functional product.

That kind of development strategy is not available in the healthcare sector–when the health and security of patients are at stake, delivering an imperfect product upfront is really not an option. Healthcare software has to be regulatory-compliant, secure, and 100% functional from the moment it launches.

These kinds of constraints are often seen to be in conflict with an Agile approach to software development. However, by making some adjustments and working with the right team, Agile healthcare can actually be of benefit to software companies in this sector who are committed to delivering high-quality products to consumers and patients.

What is Agile Methodology?

The first issue to sort out is what, exactly, software developers mean by “Agile.” Agile methodologies come in several flavors, and adherents can be fairly partisan about their preferred implementations. You might wonder whether Agile is fundamentally just a certain mindset. Or maybe it’s a particular set of practices or techniques. The reality is, it’s both. 

But the easiest way to think about Agile is to simply focus on what a standard, dictionary-style definition of the word might say. Agile organizations are flexible and light on their feet. They’re nimble. They’re not rigid or brittle. They can respond quickly to change.

What that means for healthcare is that software teams must be responsive to changes in the marketplace, receptive to evolving customer expectations, and willing to creatively integrate technology into healthcare. And organizations must do all this while ensuring data privacy, patient safety, and regulatory compliance.

Agile vs. Waterfall

Regulatory and privacy constraints have led many healthcare companies toward the Waterfall software development strategy. Waterfall is a phase-based process in which sequential development occurs in prearranged steps by specialized teams according to strict timelines. Communication between teams is relatively siloed, and changing dates or deliverables during development is to be avoided.

The Agile Manifesto emphasizes quick deliverables created by flexible, cross-functional teams. Working software is the best measure of success. Perhaps the biggest contrast between Agile and Waterfall is that Agile methodologies welcome changes, even at later stages of development. 

The Challenge for Agile Healthcare

The overarching challenge associated with creating healthcare-related software is regulatory compliance. The healthcare sector is highly regulated along different dimensions that might have significant effects on software product life cycles.

Patient privacy and security are essential responsibilities of healthcare companies, no matter what kinds of products they specialize in. HIPAA compliance, for example, presents an issue for the creation of any software product that pertains to protected health information of patients and  medical devices are highly-regulated products whose designers and manufacturers often interface closely with software development teams. 

Regulations for devices are different from, but may intersect with, patient-centric privacy regulations. The result is that developers in the healthcare software space are often faced with a complex regulatory environment that they must account for in their planning and operation.

At first glance, it isn’t hard to see why some healthcare software development teams might tend toward the Waterfall approach. Waterfall is known for making explicit all requirements and constraints on a software product before any development has taken place. Understanding and being prepared to abide by regulations would certainly seem to be a necessary precondition for any substantive software development. And once that first step has been taken, engineering teams might reasonably suppose that the only way forward would be to continue down the path of Waterfall-style development.

But is it fundamentally anti-Agile to make explicit a set of regulatory constraints and come up with a plan to create software around them? Does acknowledging the added complexity of stringent regulatory requirements necessitate a Waterfall-style approach to software development? The answer is no.

Complexities Made Easy

Unlike Agile development in other sectors, regulatory compliance means your team will need to plan for certain things ahead of time. You’ll want to consult with experts to determine what specific regulations your project must comply with, and in what jurisdictions.

But if regulatory constraints have been fully understood and uploaded by your development team, they can then play a role in shaping workflow, ensuring responsiveness to product end users, and producing compliant deliverables across the product life cycle. 

Once your team is in the development phase, all the benefits of Agile can continue to be called upon.

  • Your team can be responsive to user-centric design considerations. 
  • Cross-functional, collaborative teams can create prototypes, implement them quickly, test them empirically, and respond as needed.

While complexity is at the heart of a broader case for Agile methodology in the sector, healthcare is all about flexibility. Patients benefit from businesses enacting highly periodic, iterated, empirically-motivated processes. Ultimately, this means Agile is key to the future of healthcare.

Begin and End with Peace of Mind

Before your company begins implementing Agile software projects, you want to ensure you’re working with a high-quality, committed partner. You need an organization that can not only successfully guide your project to market, but will help you continue to refine that product in a spirit of collaboration.

As industry experts, we at illumisoft have a modern take on implementing software in the healthcare sector. Not only do we understand why a company would invest in custom software solutions, we also know what companies are looking for in healthcare solution consulting. 

Partnership with clients is what sets illumisoft apart from the multitude of healthcare-related software solution providers out there. Our process involves our clients at every step. Our engineers are trained in implementing state-of-the-art custom software using Agile methodologies–we’re set up to make pivots or changes as needed to ensure the perfect custom solution for your organization’s needs.

Partnering with illumisoft means peace of mind about your company’s important software development projects and assurance that it will be customized to fit your needs and the needs of your patients. 

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