Think you have an innovative tech idea and want to roll it out as quickly as possible? Clinicians are utilizing all sorts of technical tools every day when providing care, and no doubt many are constantly noticing gaps and dreaming up new solutions they’d like to use. If you wish there were a mobile app or web service to solve some problem, there has never been an easier time to rapidly build and deploy such a solution thanks to cutting-edge software development tools which are facilitating an information technology boom in healthcare. Ask yourself hard questions such as whether providers and patients would enthusiastically embrace your solution. If you’re pretty sure the answer is still yes, then it’s time to move forward.
So what do you need to get started? A capable coder with a proven track record. I once sat down with a nephrologist who had taught himself to write the code for some demo apps. Kudos to you if you’re motivated enough to pick up enough coding skills to build a prototype, but most clinicians should not be competing with professional software developers and if your idea is truly worth pursuing, you’ll try to find the best person to help you execute your vision. Whether you need a freelancer for a month or two or you’re hunting for a full-time CTO (chief technology officer) for your new tech company, make sure to ask around for someone dependable. Otherwise you may end up spending money for a project that’s poorly executed or never finished. Verify they have built something similar. Collaboration tools make it easier than ever to hire a remote programmer, but the money you save by hiring someone on the other side of the planet may be eaten up by poor communication so finding someone local is ideal. And if you can’t afford the top talent in town, he or she can probably refer you to other competent people.
Next up, UI and UX. If your project requires a UI (user interface) which your users will be viewing and clicking or tapping, you will probably want to find someone who can make it pretty and ensure that best practices are driving the UX (user experience). Most developers are not designers, and you’re probably no Rembrandt either, so try to avoid getting stuck on insisting the final rendition look the way you first imagined it. Even though your industry insight is important for helping your technical team understand how the app should work, experienced designers and developers should point out to you where the look and feel and behavior should be tweaked to conform to UI and UX best practices. There’s nothing worse than a brilliant idea fleshed out in such an ugly way that no one wants to use it!
Software developers like to talk about architecture. We consider elements such as the colors you see, the buttons you push and the text you read to be the front end of the application. The back end is where most of the brains should be. Let’s say your users can interact with your online service through their iPhones, iPads and desktop computers. Perhaps they’re performing a search and paging through results. Your designer may have to adjust aspect of the layout such as the widths and heights for each of the screen resolutions of those various devices. In a properly architected application, you must make changes to the front end to account for that, but the back end would require no code changes. Likewise, the front end of your application will hopefully need no edits just to tweak the logic of the search since that will be contained in the back end. Without following best practices such as this, the application will be harder to maintain over time. This is yet another reason to avoid cutting corners at the beginning by hiring a cheap programmer whose work may lead to greater costs in the long run.
Speaking of costs, what kind of budget is reasonable? A common rule of thumb for iPhone apps is $10,000 minimum. That’s for the simplest app you have ever downloaded onto your phone. Anything more involved will only go up from there, and don’t forget that once your solution is built and released to the world, ongoing maintenance will be needed. If it’s a mobile app you want to run on both iOS and Android, there are tools such as Trigger.io and PhoneGap which make it easier to write the code once and run it on both, but regardless there will be some overhead when deploying to multiple platforms. If your solution involves a web service, then you must pay for the servers which are running that code. There are some platforms such as Heroku and Google App Engine which allow you to start out for free, but these days there are plenty of low-cost options and your CTO will be the best person to determine the right fit for your needs.
How much time will it take? I can’t tell you that without hearing your business case, but the one thing I will tell you is to pare down the requirements to the minimum amount needed for your users to get value out of your solution so that you can test its viability as soon as possible. If you can get up and running with only 10 percent of the features on your wish list, then do that and add the rest later! If customers are willing to pay for a barebones version, fund the future enhancements with your initial revenue. If it’s going to end in failure, it would be better to find out after a couple months rather than a year of work.
This is just the beginning of your journey, and you’ll need plenty of help along the way. There are numerous resources online and you should do plenty of research yourself, but also make sure to run your idea by other people experienced in healthcare and technology. Encourage them to challenge your assumptions and look for holes in your proposal. Don’t let personal pride or fear impede your success. As much as you may be wary of competitors stealing your idea, in most cases a lot more will depend on the actual execution of the idea. Keeping so secretive that you don’t obtain the advice you need actually puts you at greater risk of failure. Choose your team wisely and be sure to appreciate their efforts to bring your dream to life!
HealthPost is a global search and booking platform that is reinventing access to healthcare across the broader ecosystem. HealthPost delivers choice, convenience and control to patients, while making healthcare delivery more productive, efficient and coordinated for physician groups, hospital systems, ACOs and health plans. HealthPost’s innovative products are deployed around the country and at several of the top ten hospital systems. HealthPost has partnerships with innovative companies such as Tea Leaves Health, Vitals, Healthgrades, and Athena.
Stephen Huey is a senior software developer at HealthPost in Houston. He grew up in Nigeria, studied computer science at Rice University, and has over a decade of experience in various industries such as energy and investment banking, but he’s now having more fun than ever dreaming up solutions in the world of healthcare. Stephen can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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