Medical software development difficult beginnings. How to cooperate?

a person working on a computer on validation, verification of medical product

If your company is new to the medical software development industry, I hope you will find this text interesting. From the perspective of an application service provider, I describe below my insights about the creation of 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.

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 the Future Processing Healthcare, 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 (GE Healthcare, Siemens Healthineers, Agfa-Gevaert N.V, Hologic, Pie Medical Imaging*) 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?

It is not possible to present in a short post (or even a long one) a golden mean which will guarantee success 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 medical and IT industries; the second one regards the due diligence verification of the idea, taking into account both the market research and the analysis of internal processes of the entity aiming at creating the product.

This post will be focused on the attempt to achieve an understanding between IT and medicine industries, while in another one I will try to help answering the following question: Is my idea relevant?

Medical professionals and their attitude to software

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:

  • Is advanced software really a useful tool?
  • Would it allow to obtain useful clinical results?
  • Would it be user-friendly and easy for regular work?
  • Would patient’s sensitive data be safe?
  • Would it be necessary to remember another login and password?
  • Would artificial intelligence question my diagnoses or replace me in the future?

From the very beginning of cooperation it is worth providing your partner with necessary contents thanks to which the doubts will not appear or will be nipped in the bud.

Medical software vendors experience gripes as well

On the other hand, software developers which are interested in medical market (or are already present there) have quite different problems. Below, there are questions which drive us – the software providers – crazy.

  • Is it possible to integrate our software with other software or diagnostic devices?
  • Will a medical practitioner decide on using the software?
  • Will I be given 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.

A group of clinicians has a discussion in the hallway.

Finding answers to these questions in cooperation with the partner – 8 points that matter

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. Does 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 on a regular basis, not every cardiologist describes imaging examinations of coronary arteries.) Find out if the potential partner will provide you with access to necessary data. You must also consider 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.
  • 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 professional are familiar only with a software that presented exemplary results in a specific way and they want to achieve similar result. 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 a 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 which 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.

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.


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