Why Agile Software Development is Best for Health Care

March 7, 2016

Health care is notoriously slow to embrace or adapt to change. In an age of constantly evolving and emerging health care standards and regulations, continued aversion to change is futile. This especially applies to digital health care tools being used by clinicians every day—using a proactive, incremental, ‘agile’ approach to the planning, building, and implementation of modern health care technology is the most effective, and beneficial method to deliver high quality care.

What is Agile Development?

A precarious health care environment requires clinicians and hospital administrators to be proactive, supported by digital tools that coordinate with their ever-changing clinical decision-making, care delivery and administration workflow, while maintaining compliance with regulatory agencies. ‘Agile’ methodology is a modern, incremental approach to software development that evolves over time in relation to usage and feedback, with the goal to have a finished product suited to the specific needs and expectations of end-users. Typically, developers will work in short-term ‘sprints’ ranging from two to four weeks, coding, testing, and releasing product iterations feature by feature, and adjusting based on ongoing user feedback.

Previously, health care organizations have primarily relied on digital products developed using the ‘waterfall’ method, which delivers a final product after many months, and even years of development, which doe not allow for testing and evaluation in order to detect potential defects during development, but without feedback from real-world users, such as clinicians. Though this approach may be effective in relatively stable, predictable environments, health care is not one of them, and requires a faster, and more limber approach.

Benefits of Agile Development for Healthcare

Agile development of digital software puts the end-user, the clinician, at the forefront of development, giving them greater input, control, and usage feedback out of the tools they will ultimately be the ones using. But, the benefits of this method of development extend further than just the end-user, and positively impact all parties along the health care organization.

  1. Scalability – Allows clinicians and administrators to collect, store, and work with large data volumes in a manner that suits the unique requirements of their organization or health care network.
  2. Pace – A product is able to be implemented much quicker, allowing clinicians learn and begin interacting with the tool and provide end-user feedback that much sooner.
  3. Transparency – Stakeholders can see visible proof of project progress, test and interact with features, or request changes, at the end of each sprint.
  4. Informed by early end-user feedback – Agile is flexible, allowing suggestions to be added in earlier instead of later, when changes are costlier. Grants clinicians greater input into the final product.
  5. Compliance – Facilitates the alignment of health care organizations with industry standards and regulations, and avoid any expensive penalties, or worse, the death or serious injury of patients.

Efficient use of time and resources must be implicit across all areas of the health care industry, including during the development of digital tools used at the front lines of care. Agile software development is the best way of aligning best practices and standards for health care digital tools, while ensuring that resources and time are not being wasted in the process.