We can all agree that healthcare is a highly complicated field. Even more, it’s a difficult market for both vendors and consumers, mainly due to the vast amount of regulations and standards to be followed for both producing and utilizing solutions in healthcare. When decision makers are confronted with the task of having to integrate new IT solutions, whether it’s for clinical-treatment or research purposes, one must be aware that both application and implementation is highly affected by the field’s (seven) characteristics, which Garde and Knaup highlighted back in 2006.I believe, that in order to distinguish between promising health IT candidates, and other less promising, all stakeholders should bear in mind the following questions, which incorporate all the characteristics.
Clinical knowledge and clinical information is complex. In addition, the variability in healthcare is enormous. IT solutions must be able to handle the dynamics of the field, and allow customers to adjust it accordingly. Being able to easily setup and adjust to different settings is highly important. Giving users the possibility to adjust a solution by themselves to their own requirements at any given time, is a must, and must be applied with intelligent and assistive user interfaces. Many have failed addressing the importance of intuitive interfaces, as providing the dynamics is not enough. Interfaces must be validated by a user, for it is the essence of the solution’s ability to perform.
Robustness is often hard to evaluate. However, there’s a key element to robustness which is often overlooked when assessing IT solutions — especially within healthcare and medical research. Compliance with state of the art industry standards for health IT are fundamentals for robust solutions. When choosing an IT solution, one should always look for compliance with the industry standards, such as ISO or IEC. Not only, does it indicate a certain dedication to the product design and development, but a definite devotion to quality assurance as well — which then positively affects its robustness and future design processes.
In order for application to be useful and efficient, information and data must be somewhat (if not all) patient centric. This means that solutions must be designed with the principle that patient data, at some point, will have to be shared or accessed by other actors. Collaboration, and collaboration of data, between healthcare professionals, patients, and even relatives, is an important factor for both clinical-treatment and –research. Closed systems and manufacturers who are not willing to cooperate with other IT vendors, will fail in the end.
The complexity of the healthcare domain is greatly affected by the actors and the different stakeholders involved — which then highly affects the budget of every organization. Healthcare domains are structured differently, and decision makers are everywhere from non-technical professionals, to highly skilled engineers. This makes pricing of IT solutions often very difficult, especially if pricing of a solution is dependent upon the number of data/users involved. I believe however, that pricing of IT solutions should be kept simple and direct. Customers should not be in doubt of what they are buying, for how much, or who’s to pay. Many health IT solutions, even the simplest ones, often have the most complex pricing structure, which makes it almost impossible for stakeholders to make a decision. In other markets, we are used to simple pricing — why should healthcare be any different? Price should not be linked to usage or amount of data. On the contrary, price should be set by the cost benefit, or the clinical benefit, a product provides to its consumers.
IT solutions can never be 100% secure — and that’s a fact. However, solutions can be kept secure enough by providing a framework which facilities a high level of security. This can be achieved by providing its users with intelligent methods on how to proceed, either within the solution itself, or as a part of guides. In addition, manufacturers can devote their development and production to be compliant with many of the data proficiency standards available. Medical device classification was enforced to ensure that unsafe devices wouldn’t reach the market. Health IT software should be no different. When evaluating different health IT solutions, one should always look for compliance with data regulations, data proficiency standards, security standards, and even medical device software standards. Be aware, that although many “say” that they are compliant, they often lack the documentation to prove it. A simple request of confirmation can often clarify any uncertainness.