A recent Wall Street Journal study showed that up to 80% of all medical bills contain at least one error…and that mistake is rarely in the consumer’s favor.  In fact, the situation is so problematic that Congress created a $19 billion dollar stimulus package in 2009 to lure medical companies into switching to digital billing methods; which is still met with mixed skepticism four years later.  While advanced medical software does improve efficiency and common billing errors in some regards, it also leads to numerous compliance and security concerns as well.  This article will take a closer look at the unrelenting task of developing medical software in the 21st century and some of the key concerns for medical professionals.

Must Meet Comprehensive Needs

One mistake can lead to life or death situations, so it is very important to make sure there are no inconsistencies and is compatible across a long chain of networks.One of the most common issues that hospitals have with medical software is that it wasn’t really designed to fit their needs 100%.  While it effectively creates a paper trail and simplifies billing, many professionals find it a challenge to get technology to “work for them” since they’ve become so accustomed to dealing with hard copies of everything.  An even larger issue is when treatments outside what the average patient requires comes into play; everything from simple referrals to ordering non-standard tests to getting approval from insurance companies can cause a huge headache if the software is not configured to handle these tasks.

For medical software to be a true benefit to doctors and hospitals alike, these types of issues has to be eliminated long before the programs are brought to the marketplace.  The unique challenge within the medical industry is that the software has to be compatible across a long chain of networks and even the smallest of inconsistencies can lead to life and death situations.

Simplicity is Key

Another big issue that hospitals report in regards to medical software is that it’s often too complex or contains far too large of a learning curve.  While mastering a new program may not be too much of a challenge for an office manager, for example, doctors and most technicians generally do not have the luxury of learning new software at a casual pace.  Since hundreds of patients per day at a local doctor’s office will expect prompt, courteous treatment, spending even an extra two or three minutes per case can really create havoc on a physician’s schedule.

Doctors are too busy with their own profession to learn newest software features and how to employ them.

That’s why the key to good medical software revolves around simplicity with menus that are easy to navigate, easily readable fonts, and enough flexibility to provide the most essential information about each case as quickly as possible.  This may involve dropdown menus, checkboxes, or a number of other time-saving tools so a doctor can enter a large amount of data with just a few clicks of the mouse.  Of course, the simplicity required does not override the need for specialized customizations for each particular practice; there is no room for shortcuts when it comes to keeping our citizens healthy.  This simply means that the programmers involved will have massive amounts of work on the backend to make the software as user-friendly as possible.

Focus on Privacy & Security

In our hacker-friendly world, a criminal gaining access to a patient’s medical records would be the thievery equivalent of Michael Phelps’s Olympic dominance over the past decade.  In just one file, someone with unscrupulous intentions can gain access to birth dates, social security numbers, mailing addresses, credit card numbers, bank information…and the list goes on and on.  Even a minor security breach could be catastrophic and that’s not even taking into consideration all of the Federal regulations that could lead to numerous other issues.  It’s pretty much a no-brainer that security protocols in medical software is a huge undertaking.

Cartoon about a man whose Social Security was stolen from a medical database.

So how do programmers make medical software secure?  Again, this is a complex answer that depends largely on the particular medical establishment and their exact requirements.  The answer could range from solid password protocols to military grade encryptions, live monitoring and/or dedicated firewalls.  In any case, the code for the software has to be placed under a microscope during the development and beta phases to ensure that no loopholes or backdoors exist where vital information could accidentally fall into the wrong hands.

Final Thoughts

Overall, designing and implementing medical software is certainly one of the more challenging industries for a software company to take on.  At the same time, however, government reform mandates and technologically advanced medical practices make this an incredible opportunity for hundreds of software suppliers across the nation and abroad