Unleashing The Power Of Agile Software Development In Healthcare

Agile software development in healthcare has emerged as a game-changer in today’s healthcare landscape, delivering breakthrough results even for those who were once skeptical about this new tech. 

However, while 80% of healthcare executives acknowledge the need for greater agility, only 30% are familiar with Agile innovation. And while studies reveal significant improvements in productivity and quality that Agile brings, the healthcare industry has been slow to embrace this approach fully. 

The highly regulated environment of healthcare software development and the need to meet innumerable compliance requirements initially posed challenges for Agile adoption in the healthcare niche, holding some leadership teams back from jumping into this model. Fortunately, the FDA’s endorsement of Agile software development in healthcare has changed the game, proving that Agile is a viable approach to developing compliant healthcare software. 

This article will explore how Agile methodology is applied in healthcare software development, delve into the improvements it brings, and reveal its transformative potential in revolutionizing healthcare.

Exploring the Unique Characteristics of Agile Methodology in Healthcare

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When creating software, predicting user interactions can be challenging, no matter how much planning goes into it. As user needs continue to evolve across all sectors, including healthcare, the Agile development approach becomes increasingly relevant. Its “test and learn” philosophy promotes progress by creating functional software from the earliest phases of development. 

However, the healthcare industry grapples with the gravest issue at hand – human health and well-being. Consequently, while other industries can launch a very simple minimum viable product and update it based on user feedback, doing so in healthcare is not a viable option. Healthcare solutions must operate as intended, providing all intended functions from the start. In this context, Agile software development in healthcare becomes a critical concern. 

While Agile’s “test and learn” philosophy promotes progress and adaptability, the healthcare industry must prioritize delivering reliable and trustworthy solutions from day one. Of course, updates and enhancements can be rolled out after launch.

However, if a healthcare product fails to deliver its primary function from the onset, it risks being withdrawn from the market or even damaging the company’s reputation. Therefore, Agile methodologies in healthcare must strike a delicate balance between flexibility and the need for precision and reliability.

Despite the fact mentioned below, Agile’s iterative nature, which aims to make the product functional from the early stages, holds the potential to revolutionize the way healthcare solutions are developed and implemented. And here is why: 

Why Agile is Important in Healthcare Software Development

Agile development concept incorporating medical technology and doctor

The healthcare industry often faces challenges such as slow adoption of new technology, resistance to change, and complex software solutions that create more problems than they solve. 

With the involvement of regulatory bodies and the vast amount of information required for development, the process becomes extremely time-consuming.

Traditional development methods, such as the Waterfall approach, can be problematic for the healthcare sector. When regulatory requirements change during development, companies using the Waterfall method must backtrack and redo significant portions of the work. 

Similarly, developers must revise their work to fix the issue if an error is identified during the testing phase. These setbacks consume time and result in a final product that is unusable or fails to address the intended problem, leading to massive operational losses.

In contrast, Agile software development in healthcare offers a solution to these challenges. 

By dividing the development process into smaller, manageable segments, the entire team stays updated and can adapt to changes more efficiently.

Benefits of Agile for Healthcare Development

A survey conducted by Forbes has shown that organizations adopting Agile principles have achieved remarkable results, attributing their competitive edge to the benefits provided by this methodology, which include:

  • Adaptability and Flexibility: In an ever-changing healthcare landscape, Agile methodologies empower organizations to rapidly adjust to new requirements, cutting-edge technologies, and shifting patient needs. This ensures software solutions remain up-to-date and in line with the evolving healthcare environment.
  • Enhanced Collaboration and Communication: Agile practices foster interdisciplinary teams, encouraging frequent communication between healthcare professionals, IT experts, and stakeholders. This results in better cooperation, knowledge exchange, and refined decision-making processes.
  • Iterative Development and Continuous Improvement: The iterative nature of Agile  allows for the step-by-step creation and distribution of functional software, facilitating early feedback and consistent enhancements based on user opinions and fluctuating requirements.
  • Accelerated Time-to-Market: With an emphasis on providing value in condensed cycles, Agile strategies enable healthcare organizations to launch functional software more often and efficiently introduce new components, services, and technologies.
  • Enhanced Efficiency and Cost Reduction: By concentrating on delivering high-priority features from the onset, healthcare organizations can optimize resources and minimize waste. This leads to cost savings and better resource management.
  • Risk Mitigation: Implementing Agile practices contributes to the early detection and mitigation of potential risks. By dividing projects into smaller segments, potential concerns can be identified and resolved more rapidly.
  • Regulatory Compliance: The utilization of Agile software development in healthcare can assist healthcare organizations in effectively navigating complex regulatory requirements and maintaining compliance during software development processes.

Agile is also being adopted outside of software development processes because of its test-driven environment and flexibility. 

An increasing number of businesses are reassessing their operational processes and fundamental tenets in order to enhance their flexibility, propelling the adoption of Agile project management within the healthcare sector

Thus, Agile software development in healthcare is transforming the industry and creating a more versatile environment for organizations and users.

How Experts Implement Agile Software Development In Healthcare

Deploying agile vs traditional methods in development concept

Incorporating agile software development in the healthcare sector involves a sequence of steps and practices customized to this industry’s specific demands. The typical process of implementing agile methodologies within healthcare settings might include these steps: 

  1. Forming Agile Teams: Healthcare organizations bring together cross-functional teams consisting of healthcare practitioners, IT specialists, developers, designers, and other key stakeholders. These teams work collaboratively throughout the development phase, guaranteeing a thorough grasp of the project objectives.
  2. Defining User Stories: User stories are created to encapsulate the requirements and expectations of end-users, such as healthcare providers, patients, and administrators. These narratives form the basis for software development and direct the Agile team in building software solutions.
  1. Prioritizing and Planning: Agile teams work together to prioritize user stories based on their value and impact. This ranking process helps establish the order in which features and functionalities are created. The team then creates a roadmap or backlog, outlining the tasks and iterations required.
  2. Iterative Development: Agile software development in healthcare is formed by short iterations, typically referred to as sprints. Each sprint spans a few weeks, directing the team’s focus toward specific features or functionalities. At the end of each sprint, the healthcare software increment is delivered, facilitating ongoing feedback and assessment.
  3. Daily Stand-up Meetings: To maintain open communication and foster collaboration, Agile teams organize daily stand-up meetings, commonly known as daily scrums. These concise sessions allow members to discuss their progress, address challenges, and outline daily objectives, ensuring the entire team stays in line with the project’s status.
  4. Continuous Feedback and Adaptation: Agile methodology encourages continuous input from end-users, stakeholders, and team members. Such feedback is integrated into the development process, paving the way for modifications, fine-tuning, and enhancements in future iterations.
  1. Regular Retrospective: Agile teams conduct retrospectives at the end of each sprint or project milestone to reflect on the development journey. These retrospectives provide a platform to acknowledge achievements, identify obstacles, and pinpoint areas requiring improvement.
  2. Continuous Integration and Testing: Agile software development in healthcare teams must place a high priority on continuous integration and testing to maintain the software’s quality and performance. Periodic testing and integration enable early detection and resolution of issues, reducing the risk of major setbacks while ensuring a seamless process.
  3. Deployment and Release: Once the healthcare software has undergone sufficient testing and meets the required quality benchmarks, it is deployed and released to end-users. Agile methodologies emphasize delivering working software incrementally, allowing for early deployment and value realization.

By following these Agile practices, healthcare organizations can effectively implement Agile software development in healthcare. 

And with its collaborative approach, iterative development process, and focus on continuous improvement, Agile not only helps develop innovative solutions quickly and cost-effectively but also ensures that these solutions remain relevant and aligned with the dynamic healthcare landscape. 

Real-Life Applications of Agile Software Development in Healthcare

Agile development meets AI concept

The aims of using Agile software development in the healthcare sector follow the same trends as Agile software development used in general. 

However, in the healthcare sector, the focus extends to more targeted outcomes such as improving patient outcomes, quality of healthcare delivery, and patient safety. 

Here are a few notable examples of how Agile software development in healthcare provides real-world solutions in line with these objectives:

  1. Electronic Health Records (EHR) Systems: Agile methodologies are widely adopted in the field of Electronic Health Records (EHR) systems. They allow for iterative development, enabling healthcare organizations to deliver working software increments and gather feedback from end-users throughout the process. A notable case study is from Iora Health, a healthcare organization that effectively created its own EHR software solution through Agile methodology.
  2. Telemedicine Platforms: Agile software development in healthcare offers rapid development and frequent iterations to developing telemedicine platforms. Through frequent iterations and close collaboration with stakeholders, Agile ensures that these platforms remain up-to-date, user-friendly, and meet the evolving needs of healthcare providers and patients. There are also researches demonstrating the effectiveness of the Agile methods in constructing efficient telemedicine platforms.
  3. Patient Portals: Developing patient portal software involves creating multiple applications. By utilizing agile methodologies, developers can take an iterative approach to build the must-have features of a successful patient portal. These features include appointment scheduling, asynchronous chats, and aggregation of medical records. Later on, user feedback and emerging requirements can then guide the future enhancement of the portals. 
  4. Clinical Decision Support Systems (CDSS): By incorporating clinical guidelines, Agile principles gather feedback from end-users, continuously deploy the CDSS, and provide healthcare professionals with evidence-based recommendations and alerts to support their clinical decision-making process. In addition, the Agile modeling approach is used to foster a shared understanding of CDSS requirements and design, removing ambiguities throughout these processes.
  5. Health Information Exchange (HIE) Systems: Agile development practices promote collaboration among stakeholders and iterative development, making it an ideal approach for HIE Systems. This methodology ensures that the HIE system aligns with regulatory requirements, interoperability standards, and the unique needs of healthcare providers. By embracing Agile software development in healthcare, we can build seamless data exchange flow while enhancing the efficiency of healthcare delivery.

In a world where health mandates and patient expectations are constantly evolving, the agile methodology could give a neat way to constantly improve health IT solutions and ultimately improve patient care. However, despite its widespread adoption in various sectors, Agile is still not a silver bullet for healthcare software development, and here is why:

Hurdles Preventing Healthcare Companies From Implementing Agile

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In the field of healthcare, there are distinct challenges that collide with the core values of Agile methodologies. This leads to significant roadblocks for healthcare organizations that wish to embrace Agile software development in healthcare, including:

  • Fail to actually use Agile core principles: The primary hurdle in embracing agile software development in healthcare is the inability to actually use its core practices and principles. Most healthcare organizations and their development teams are familiar with the right terminology for Agile development, but they often fail to implement the actual methodology effectively.
  • Try to implement a hybrid approach: Some projects were developed in a traditional Waterfall manner and then transitioned to Agile, but the process didn’t become truly Agile. An example of this is the development of Healthcare.gov, a government-funded project aimed at guiding patients in selecting suitable healthcare plans. 

The project first used a waterfall method, but the development team failed to plan for the expected influx of users. When launched, the website adopted five times more users than planned and crashed within two hours. Despite attempts to incorporate both Waterfall and Agile methodologies, the team didn’t adhere to the core principles of Agile, which include teamwork, releasing components one by one, and gathering user feedback or interaction with them.

  • Unable to conform to healthcare laws and regulations: Regulatory compliance is a critical concern in the healthcare industry. Organizations must guide and oversee the whole development process to ensure a compliant end product. However, healthcare regulations should be different from the reason hindering the adoption of Agile. In fact, Agile software development in healthcare’s focus on team collaboration is what can enhance compliance management. 

The ideal solution in this case is to partner with a reliable technical expert who has a deep understanding of Agile software development in healthcare and can guide you through these stringent regulatory requirements.

Let KMS Healthcare Take Care Of The Heavy-Lifting For You

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Implementing Agile software development in healthcare faces primary challenges due to the industry’s conservative nature and stringent regulations. However, the biggest hurdle lies in the resistance to change within organizational culture.

The Agile approach is ideal for projects where not all requirements are predetermined or when there are time constraints for software delivery. Before fully embracing Agile, businesses should understand how it relates to their specific projects, involving stakeholders and team members in the communication process and implementing iterative planning, among other things.

If you need help following Agile methodology in healthcare software development or are looking for a team proficient in adopting Agile to create, integrate, and implement healthcare software solutions within your organization, drop us a line and let us take care of the rest. 

With more than a decade of specialized expertise in the healthcare niche, KMS Healthcare can be the reliable partner you need to build your Agile software development process and bring your healthtech idea into reality. Contact us to connect with our team of healthcare experts today!

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