The digital health industry has seen rapid expansion in recent years. Rock Health is reporting estimates that more than 1,200 digital health companies in the U.S. have attracted investment as high as $33 billion in a decade, going from $1.1 billion in 2011 up to $14 billion in 2020. Of course, with great growth come great challenges. For instance, the speed of highly dynamic progress can be its own obstacle when faced with comparatively sluggish institutional systems — the necessary interactions during what is currently a cumbersome process from clinical use validation to being integrated within large health system workflows.
However, interest in adopting digital health tools continues to increase, which should be a significant incentive for streamlining the process of putting digital medicine solutions to good use. And, as is the case with any major industry transformation, it is in all parties’ interest to consider best practices as early as possible in the process. To that end, we list a few core best practices of digital health product development, below.
1. Understand and Anticipate Structural Hurdles
As explained recently in npj Digital Medicine, institutional integration has yet to catch up with the pace and modi operandi of digital tool development. While many frameworks do exist for clinical validation of digital health tools, the process leaves a lot to be figured out. It is essential that adoption and deployment strategies result in the actual value creation that is brought by efficiency and optimal patient care. Healthcare is a highly complex system, which imposes great attention to both detail and the bigger picture when evaluating digital solutions in terms of how to best select, build, and deploy them where they are most beneficial.
One of the reasons why adoption of digital health tools in complex health systems remains somewhat limited is the lack of efficient frameworks for evaluating tools in ways that anticipate potential benefits, as well as challenges of adopting them. It is important to keep this in mind when developing such solutions and be prepared to tackle various demonstrative needs during the selection process.
2. Does Your Digital Health Tool Address a Real Need?
Is your digital health solution worth adopting? This may go without saying, but digital health development has a higher rate of success when it focuses on addressing a real need in a meaningful way. Many advantages or limitations in the selection process depend greatly on the developer’s understanding of the type of problem that the tool is created to address, as well as knowledge of the characteristics of the provider or institution where the tool is intended to serve.
Once a health system understands the need it has to meet, it will likely follow some or all of the following paths for identifying a solution:
- Do any of the organization’s existing vendors offer a digital health solution?
- Is there an external solution on the market that is already validated and can be tested?
- Is there a vendor willing to codevelop the solution needed?
- Would internal custom development of the desired tool be the most appropriate option?
Which one do you best fit? Can you approach more than one path?
3. Show the Value of Your Work
Complexity is key, throughout. Be prepared to demonstrate the potential value, as well as security integrity, of the solution you offer. Do your research — proper understanding of the health system’s need and characteristics allows you to anticipate and prepare demonstrations in a great variety of pertinent scenarios. The complexity of healthcare in action is where the system exhibits its own unique high dynamic. It is essential that you anticipate the fact that there are use cases you did not foresee. Consequently, ensure that your demonstrative process shows that the digital health tool delivered is quickly adaptable to new specifications and variables.
4. Cultivate Trust by Practicing Transparency
Any area of healthcare is a very delicate terrain in which to operate, in general. Even more so for digital health companies, in this age of precarious trust. Practicing transparency — from your social media to your research and development processes — will go a long way.
Nightingale Health’s blood analysis technology is internationally recognized. The company’s solution uses nuclear magnetic resonance along with proprietary software for a comprehensive spectrum analysis of numerous biomarkers in a single blood sample. Unlike more opaque startups that are now famous for false claims in the same niche, Nightingale collaborated with numerous researchers, ensuring transparency about their technology. Now, the company’s claims are evidence-based and there are more than 300 studies to show for it.
Moreover, this was a valuable way to account for patient design. After all, patients are often the end-user of digital health tools and their input should be incorporated in the development process, whenever the digital solution attends to their medical needs. Including patient design remains among the best practices for transparency in the industry.
5. Don’t Sell Something You Can’t Maintain
Quality healthcare services require being able to rely on long-term stable solutions and tools. You should ensure that you have sufficient resources not only for deployment of the digital health tool you put forward, but also for its reliable long-term use. This includes, but is not limited to resources that allow you to ensure data quality; data and process security; continued quality and compliance with all requirements (both regulatory and from customers); and external quality assurance for continued trust and transparency.
The resources you can rely on may very well depend on figuring out what would be the likeliest, most efficient source of reimbursement for your tools. Take it upon yourself to also build a financing model that is ideally both sustainable and scalable. Whether it is from donors, patients, insurance companies, government offices, or elsewhere, think critically about who pays for the solutions you offer and integrate this into your development process.
6. Have a Strategy for Implementation
When considering what your digital health tool implementation would require, it is essential to keep in mind a few basic considerations:
- Training – identify and plan for the training delivery medium, as well as what training materials might be required.
- IT integration – be mindful of any specific integration requirements for your product, as well as any permissions that might be required to integrate your solution into the health system’s existing IT infrastructure.
- Information security – identify the organization’s standards for information security and ensure that your tool meets these standards. Furthermore, identify any security or privacy issues that might need to be mitigated prior to implementation.
- Human capital investment – will implementation require personnel? Identify and plan for any technical expertise requirements for training, integration, and information security activities.
- Adapting workflows to incorporate the new tool – anticipate what components may need to be changed and in what ways, in order to adopt the new tool. Additionally, identify if and how staff responsibilities change after the tool is deployed.
Of course, while this is a good checklist, it is important to keep in mind that Health systems may customize any or all these considerations to their organization’s needs. Ensuring that new tools align with the general purpose, direction, and needs of the health system allows for implementation strategies to be carried out to the client’s unique specifications. In addition to all of these, good communication and cooperation ensure that any personnel responsible for implementation is able to quickly connect with clients and other appropriate contacts at any moment deemed necessary.
Software solutions to streamline your healthcare business
Digitalization future-proofs your healthcare business and sets it up for long-term success. SMEDIX can help you find the most fitting solutions for your stability and growth. Reach out to our team – we’re eager to create a better future for healthcare together.