Medical Software Crossroads: Custom or Packaged?

Medical Software Crossroads Custom or Packaged

Prior to adopting a new medical software, caregivers might face the common dilemma of ready-made products vs. custom solutions. Balancing the building and buying smartly isn’t an easy task to handle for decision makers. Considering all the pros and cons, we advise paying attention to the following 3 points first:

Usability Aspects

Poor usability is a situation where technology mismatches user needs. In the case of off-the-shelf applications, the conflict stems from the desire to develop a universal solution. This leads to creating additional abstraction layers (menu levels, over complicated forms irrelevant for particular provider fields, and more), which a particular customer does not necessarily need.

The unfortunate truth is that the ready-made healthcare products are always suffering from this problem. Though doing their best to keep users in mind, developers fail to deliver a one-size-fits-all solution. And unfortunately, healthcare is an industry where systems that aren’t comprehensive might kill.

Here is a story published on Medium. A patient, let’s call her Jenny, was a little girl who had cancer. She needed a very strong and toxic chemotherapy treatment, which required pre-hydration and post-hydration with intravenous therapy fluid for 3 days. The prescription for I.V. hydration was entered in the charting application.

However, the three nurses with over 10 years of experience couldn’t figure out the software they were using and completely missed this critical information.

Jenny had missed her hydration for two shifts and died from toxicity and dehydration.

It’s not just a single case of one deadly mistake, it’s a horrifying trend. According to Healthcare IT News, the overall preventable medical errors persist as the number 3 killer in the US, losing only to heart disease and cancer.

Of course, we can’t blame the software alone. All these medical faults are caused by a wide range of reasons which claim the lives of more than 1,000 people each day. And to reduce the deadly number, we should eliminate the tech factor from this staggering equation.

Intuitive systems running like clockwork will reduce this number only if healthcare technologies are created in strong partnership with end users – physicians, therapists and nurses. This applies to both packaged and custom medical software.

Workflow Adaption

Medical software should accurately handle every caregiver’s process. With off-the-shelf solutions, it might be challenging and pricy. The point of packaged applications is that you don’t actually need any heavy changes in the software.

The mismatch between an out-of-the-box system and client’s processes may be resolved in one of the following ways:

  • Adapt to a packaged system. You expend some energy in training and even persuading your staff to work with the technology understanding and accepting its peculiarities.
  • Adapt a packaged system itself. Packaged applications allow customization to a certain extent, which requires investing time and money. The more alterations a system has, the more you lose the advantages of the ready-made software, because the main idea was to buy it and use it right away.

A custom solution works better, because you can get software that meets all your requirements. It doesn’t challenge nurses and physicians to adapt to the inconvenient application. It just does its job and helps health experts do theirs.

Total Costs

At first gaze, a ready-made solution is more affordable, because all you need is make a purchase. However, there are few pitfalls that could increase the final cost significantly.

If you’re choosing one of the top industry vendors, as you need only the best software out there, you need to be prepared for a hefty price tag. For instance, large health systems can shell out around $50 – $700 million for packaged solutions, whereas smaller ones – around $500 thousand – $5 million.

You should also stay aware of the hidden costs. Any new technology requires some time to integrate into your existing system. You will need to train your staff and wait until they get used to it. While packaged software is assumed to be a ready-to-go solution, it might need some additional tweaks to ensure full compliance with the health industry standards. And here goes the maintenance issue. An off-the-shelf application’s maintenance costs can be surprisingly high.

On the other hand, a custom solution might be less expensive, as it doesn’t have to provide a universal set of features for a wide range of customers. You can forget about the “brand fees”, i.e. marketing expenses of the leading vendors. The downside is your delivery time might be increased to 1-3 years.

Making a Decision

As the healthcare industry is an increasingly competitive area, health systems are motivated to actively use all the tech options available on the market. Therefore, when adopting a new software, care providers need to choose a solution with flawless operational warranties as well as defining the level of customization and the delivery time they want.

Both ready-made and custom applications can be quite flexible, convenient and affordable. Packaged solutions’ benefits are shorter delivery time and fewer technical risks, however, technical only.  And custom software are really user-friendly, adapting to all the minor and major aspects of your staff’s daily workflow.

It’s not an easy call to make, not at all. For the industry which saves lives, every drawback has to be considered. The most valuable advice we could give – include custom software in your shortlist, compare all the options and choose the best for your requirements.
Sinkevich Uladzimir
By Sinkevich Uladzimir, Department Manager at ScienceSoft. He brings in 8 years of experience in IT with 4 years in custom healthcare software development.