Medical software development difficult beginnings. How to cooperate?

If your company is new to medical software development process, I hope you will find this text interesting. From the perspective of an application service provider, I describe below my insights about creating medical software. In this post, you will also find 8 matters which, in my opinion, should be taken into account at the beginning of this journey.

Medical software development – here we go

I guess everyone who comes up with an idea of a new product or service has got doubts similar to those indicated in the title. The problem becomes even more complicated if it concerns a product pertaining to as different industries as medicine and IT.

Sharing experience gained mainly in Graylight Imaging, but also thanks to two-year work experience in a hospital, I will try to give you some hints which may turn out useful in the process of medical professional-friendly software development.

Global leaders of the medical software market are a proof that you can be successful. And the interconnection between technology and medicine may bear fruit.

But where to start if we are not a big corporation, do not have millions to spend on R&D, do not have a long-standing brand, and still, we would like to deal with medical software development process?

It is not possible to present in a short post (or even a long one) a golden mean which will guarantee success in medical software development process. But there are some things which facilitate communication with a medical partner. I am going to focus on two aspects. The first one is the cooperation and mutual understanding of the medical and IT industries. The second one regards the due diligence verification of the idea. The verification takes into account both the market research and the analysis of the internal processes of the entity aiming at creating the product.

This post focuses on the attempt to achieve an understanding of the IT and medicine industries, while in another one I will try to help answer the following question: Is my medical software idea relevant?

Professionals and their attitude

Experts in medicine often have rarely communicated doubts and questions at the back of their minds. Therefore, I would like to present a list of doubts I have encountered during my work experience:

The development of medical software is a complex and challenging process, and it is important to answer a number of key questions before getting started. 

I have prepared a list of six key questions with an explanatory note that should be answered, including:

1. Is advanced software a useful tool?

Advanced software can be a valuable tool for medical professionals, as it can help them collect and analyze data, make clinical decisions, and improve the quality of care for patients.

2. Can the software collect and analyze data for clinical decision-making?

The software should be able to collect and analyze data in a way that is meaningful for clinical decision-making. This means that the data should be accurate, timely, and relevant to the patient’s care.

3. Is the software easy to use and does not add to the workload of medical professionals?

The medical software should be easy to use and should not add to the workload of medical professionals. This means that the software should be intuitive and should not require a lot of training to use.

4. Is patient privacy and security protected?

The software should protect patient privacy and security. This means that the software should not store or transmit patient data without the patient’s consent.

5. Does the software reduce the burden on medical professionals and improve usability?

The software should reduce the burden on medical professionals and improve usability. This means that the software should be efficient and should not require a lot of manual input.

6. Can artificial intelligence address concerns about the potential impact on the role of medical professionals?

AI can be useful to address concerns about the potential impact on the role of medical professionals. For example, artificial intelligence can automate tasks performed by medical professionals, freeing up their time to focus on more complex tasks.

It’s possible to answer these questions carefully. Developers can help to ensure that the medical software development process is in a way that is safe, effective, and user-friendly. This can help to improve the quality of care for patients. And to make the work of medical professionals more efficient.

In addition to the questions listed above, it is also important to consider the specific needs of the medical professionals who will be using the software. This includes understanding their workflow, their pain points, and their expectations for the software. By taking the time to understand the needs of the users, developers can create software that is truly valuable and useful.

Medical software vendors are not without challenges as well

On the other hand, software developers which are interested in medical market (or are already present there) have quite different problems. The questions that we, the medical software providers, get asked the most frequently are listed below:

  • Is it possible to integrate our software with other software or diagnostic devices?
  • Will a medical practitioner decide on using the software?
  • Will I get access to medical data enabling verification of the software operation/performance of tests?
  • Does a hospital posses sufficiently powerful hardware to process large amount of data fast?
  • Will I get certification of the medical product to launch the project?

It is our task to take those aspects into account, and realizing they exist allows to prepare oneself properly. For your own peace of mind try to consider those hints and, better, together with the medical partner. It can be done through mutual recognition and understanding only.

The picture depicted a quotation about medical software development tool. There's symbolic hand which hold red and grey blocks.
Key factors during cooperation between IT vendors and medical professionals 

Seemingly, it looks difficult to proceed, and that is why below I would like to present some observations based on my own experience. As a representative of the IT industry it is much easier for me to address my considerations to this party. So, fellow professional, please make yourself acquainted with the following hints.

Choose the right partner

  • Unfortunately, it is not always a nice, interested-in-innovation physician that is the best fit. Take the responsiveness of your partner into account. Do their intentions and timing go hand in hand? (Will they find time for such a project if they manage different shifts?) Choose a specialist who deals precisely with a subject related to the project. (Note: e.g. not every oncologist diagnoses and treats pancreatic cancer regularly, not every cardiologist describes imaging examinations of coronary arteries.) Find out if the potential partner will provide you with access to the necessary data. You must also consider the formal and legal aspects of making test results available. Also, remember that medical data may differ from person to person or differ depending on the population. It’s very important in the medical software development process.

Tell your medical partner what you need and why

  • At the beginning of the cooperation, and possibly before specifying the conditions, tell them about your idea and ask for whatever you need. Ask the expert for a brief feedback. Consider what data you will need, not only during the project development but also during verification of its operation. It will allow to avoid disappointments when we discover that the entity we cooperate with does not conduct research of this type.

Do not use specialist slang from IT industry

  • Using industry-related slang, difficult words or domain words which are easy for us as we use them on a regular basis, may cause communication issues. This will not necessarily put us in a good light. It may have the opposite effect and discourage the partner from further cooperation because of the assumption they do not meet the requirements of this project. Therefore, it is necessary to use commonly used phrases or explain difficult terms if you use them for the first time.

Learn the basic medical terminology in the field of the project subject

  • The system of education does not provide the subject of anatomy on IT studies (it is fortunate by the way). When starting cooperation with a medical entity, it is worth learning just the basic terms in this field. It will certainly facilitate communication, and in addition to that, demonstration of this knowledge will cause the partner to treat us more seriously.

Make alternatives proposals

  • As it often happens, medical professionals are familiar only with software that presents exemplary results in a specific way and they want to achieve similar results. However, later on, it accidentally occurs that what they need is just a component of what they are familiar with or it is easier for them to use software providing a different format of the result. It is worth proposing alternative solutions also in cases in which implementation of an algorithm responsible for a particular function is complex. Maybe the problem can be dealt with in a different way bringing an easier solution.

Mention the possibility of using the cooperation results for scientific publications

  • Apart from work placement, many physicians deal with scientific activity. The initiative of publishing the results coming from a mutual project may deepen the cooperation, and certainly won’t do any harm.

Speak to a medical technician, medical physicist, employer from an IT department or medical devices department

  • Those are the people rarely present in the hospital and many of us are not even aware they exist. Apart from the “invisibility” those people have another important feature – they have expertise including technical aspects of relevant areas. Maybe that’s the right place to look for answers to questions that physicians are not able to answer to.

Safety of a patient is paramount

  • This is the last and the most important issue, I guess. Remember, the purpose of a medical software is not only to gain profits, but first and foremost, to provide care to a patient and support the physician in doing so. The software must be free from errors, as those can endanger someone’s health or even life.
The significance of dialogue in the creation of medical software

Medical centres are remarkable partners, and the subjects of medical projects are often complex and complicated. I do not know what drives you, but for me co-development of software aimed at treating patients is satisfying enough, motivates me and compensates me for the whole effort.

Today, it seems evident that software has become indispensable, playing a pivotal role in the development of virtually every technology. It also applies to the medical area, where medical software development gains the interest of investors, vendors, users and payers. As a company that develops medical software algorithms, we can assure our clients that we will provide software that is secure, efficient, and fulfils their expectations. It’s very important to us to carefully analyze the client requirements of medical professionals and cooperate together to address the current issues.

Open lines of communication should be established from the beginning as one of the methods we use. As a result, our software engineers and specialists in medicine can collaborate on a project to enhance the creation of medical software. Using these guidelines, they may create software that is reliable, effective, and easy to use, thus raising the bar for patient care.