A robust digital solution for data management is a must for healthcare providers. The healthcare industry requires efficient tools to facilitate the workflow of medical staff, secure patients’ information, and provide high-quality services.
Developing these tools is challenging not only because of the complex architecture but also due to various compliance requirements. Global and federal organizations impose strict rules for healthcare applications and systems, aiming to make security a top priority and protect sensitive patient data. Such precautions are reasonable. After all, in just the period from January to May 2020, there were 28 reported cyber attacks on health systems in the US according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, including malware attacks and unauthorized access to electronic health record (EHR) systems.
One of the most promising ways of enhancing the healthcare industry with secure and efficient digital tools is using the software as a service (SaaS) model.
This article will be useful for those who are interested in SaaS solutions and want to learn how to build an EHR system for healthcare, what essential features to implement, and what pitfalls and challenges to expect.
Modern healthcare software solutions aim to facilitate the workflow of healthcare institutions and improve the patient experience. Such solutions are often used for arranging online consultations with doctors, storing medical databases, issuing e-prescriptions and medical bills, and so on.
Depending on the tasks it can solve, healthcare software can be divided into three large groups:
Medical practice management software (PMS) helps with day-to-day operations of a healthcare organization, which usually include scheduling appointments, billing, verifying insurance, and handling other administrative tasks. Such systems mostly focus on managing patient flows and general administrative documentation rather than on patient documentation or medical histories.
Electronic medical record (EMR) systems manage digital patient information within a particular medical institution. Data stored and processed by these systems can’t be shared with other institutions. EMR tools don’t need to be certified and basically are just digital copies of patient charts.
Electronic health record (EHR) systems handle a patient’s medical information across multiple medical providers. Such solutions are meant to reduce the risk of data double-entry and help doctors efficiently manage their workflows. EHR systems also enable patient portals with secured access to personal medical histories and health records and may include additional features like those in a PMS.
As you can see, EHR solutions are the most comprehensive tools as they include various modules and extensive functionality, solving multiple administrative tasks at once. No wonder the EHR market was valued at over $25.5 billion in 2018 and is expected to grow to over $38 billion by 2025. Data by Global Market Insights also shows stable interest in web- and cloud-based EHR solutions and predicts increased demand in the future.
EHR system development using the software as a service model is quite popular due to the vast number of benefits for businesses. Here are the most significant advantages of SaaS EHR solutions:
- Convenient management — Deploying a SaaS solution is fast, easy, and pretty much effortless. Support and maintenance are usually provided by the SaaS vendor, allowing healthcare organizations to focus on patients instead of struggling with installing and maintaining software.
- Advanced scalability and flexibility — Healthcare organizations can scale up their SaaS EHR systems and adjust them for the required number of users in a few clicks. They can also configure settings for used modules and the volume of data storage.
- Fast access — SaaS software ensures quick log-in and secure authentication and can be used from a computer, tablet, or even smartphone.
- Cost-efficiency — Cloud-based EHR tools offer different licensing options for various functionality sets, making software affordable for healthcare organizations of different sizes and types.
However, building a robust, convenient, and secure healthcare tool is a true challenge. It requires thorough planning, integration with third-party systems, smooth data migration, and robust data security. Apart from their significant benefits, SaaS solutions also have some downsides and challenges you should consider when developing your product:
- Performance depends on the quality of the internet connection unless the application can be used offline
- Effort is needed to establish decent data security for cloud software
- Need to comply with HIPAA and other strict industry requirements
- Need to ensure compatibility with different operating systems and browsers
- Lack of trust from customers who have less control over a SaaS solution than a locally installed program
The very first and most essential thing to consider when building a custom SaaS solution is its architecture. Let’s take a closer look at the system modules you should pay attention to when creating an EHR system.
Ensuring robust functionality and data security are the keys to building a successful EHR solution. Perfect software for the healthcare industry has to be easy to use, provide medical staff with extensive functionality, and secure valuable patient information from compromise and data leaks.
Before developing your EHR software, you should concentrate on its architecture, explore the latest and most useful technologies to implement, and foresee the likeliest challenges you’ll have to deal with along the way.
The functionality of SaaS EHR software can vary significantly depending on an organization’s goals. EHR core features usually include management of in-hospital medication lists, prescriptions, patient histories, clinical documentation, patient care plans, etc.
Let’s take a look at some of the most useful modules you can add to an EHR solution.
Electronic document management module. This is a core functionality of any EHR tool and is supposed to help doctors access all patient-related information fast and efficiently. This includes information on health and treatment histories, lab results, X-rays, and prescriptions. Therefore, a document management module must support various data formats and ensure strong data security.
Medical record module. Healthcare providers are obliged to keep detailed documentation and charts. Therefore, you should thoughtfully design the medical records module of your SaaS EHR system. Consider equipping your solution with customizable chart templates, checkboxes, and machine learning (ML) algorithms to facilitate the routine of the healthcare staff.
Patient portal. Modern EHR systems often equip patients with a special system extension that allows them to access personal health data and explore lab results and appointment histories. To improve the user experience, you can add the following features to your patient-oriented module: questionnaires before visiting a doctor, appointment scheduling, notifications on upcoming appointments and readiness of lab results, and online chats with doctors.
Appointment scheduling module. This module helps staff effectively manage appointments. It also can be more convenient for some patients to schedule their visits online instead of making phone calls. Make sure to synchronize data between the scheduling module and patient module and to add notifications about upcoming appointments and changes to them to ensure the best user experience.
Task management module. Doctors and other employees of healthcare organizations are loaded with work: advising patients, preparing reports, handling administrative tasks, engaging in continuing education. With an advanced task management module, they can optimize their schedules, improve productivity, and prevent burnout.
Reporting module. To facilitate work for hospital administrators, your EHR software must be equipped with a powerful analytics and reporting module. Such a module should provide opportunities to create reports required for financial management, disease management, health data collection, staff productivity, etc.
Billing module. Electronic billing is a must for every EHR SaaS solution. It can save significant time for a healthcare organization’s staff when it comes to creating and checking bills, processing claims, and running financial reports.
Apart from putting your efforts into designing a flawless EHR architecture, you should also pay attention to the usability of the solution. It’s essential to develop software that works fast and has an intuitive interface.
Make sure to involve experienced QA engineers to run various tests and thoroughly check the solution. Once your software is ready, you can also gather customers’ feedback on the EHR’s efficiency and functionality to track your custom solution’s performance.
SaaS Development Lifecycle
Empowering your SaaS solution with core modules and features of conventional EHR systems is the starting point. But as time goes by, new technologies arise, promising to speed up processes and increase software productivity.
Let’s discuss three major trends that can enhance your EHR SaaS solution.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Both AI and ML may help you solve multiple issues in EHR solutions thanks to their ability to process enormous amounts of data fast and efficiently.
One of the ways AI can be applied in EHR systems is for data extraction. Healthcare providers can leverage AI algorithms to recognize key terms among different sources and quickly extract patient data from scanned documents, doctors’ notes, lab results, and other content.
EHR systems can also be enhanced with ML tools used for speech and image recognition. In particular, such tools will come in handy for turning audio records and handwritten documents into readable text. When properly trained, ML algorithms can understand a clinician’s vocabulary and precisely record notes and prescriptions. Thus, medical staff can save hours on filling out forms and documents and pay more attention to patients.
Blockchain. Blockchain solutions are already widely used in various healthcare startups to secure data and transactions and ensure privacy for protected health information (PHI). As a decentralized system that uses timestamps to authenticate every change made to data, a blockchain ensures data authenticity and eliminates risks of data deception.
Also, blockchains are highly appreciated for their transparency. While the ownership of data on a blockchain is shared among trusted parties, records are secured from illegitimate third-party intervention. Transparency can help in tracking prescriptions and securing healthcare organizations from fake orders and other fraudulent activities.
A blockchain can also be used to enhance an AI-based mechanism for recognizing speech and handwritten text. Blockchains promise to provide transparency and trust, making them safe places to store generated prescriptions and other patient data.
Multiple clouds. Using multiple cloud services as well as SaaS providers is another trend. You may use both private clouds and hybrid clouds.
Multicloud setups can be used for various purposes, but the most essential one is for disaster recovery. Even if the entire infrastructure of one cloud fails, a multicloud system will continue operating. This benefit is especially valuable for the healthcare industry and EHR solutions, where data security and integrity are the top priorities.
Knowing the necessary modules, the latest technologies, and specifics of the software architecture is essential, but it’s not enough to build an efficient SaaS EHR solution. You may run into lots of challenges due to the complexity of the healthcare industry and the need to handle confidential data related to patients, medical staff, workflows, and other things.
Collecting data. Healthcare organizations work with tons of information. Therefore, your solution should be able to process various data formats.
Make sure to think ahead about the ways data can be entered into your solution: manually by a nurse or a doctor as well as automatically from a patient’s smartwatch or other wearables. Consider implementing functionality that allows for extracting valuable data from scanned or photographed documents. You may also want to apply technologies like voice recognition and handwriting recognition to simplify work for healthcare staff and stand out among your competitors.
Simplifying data migration. Dedicate enough time and effort to creating functionality that enables secure and flawless data migration from one records management system to another.
There are two common scenarios for migrating healthcare data: from an existing EHR system to new clean software or to a solution that’s already in use. Both are challenging, but the second option brings risks like data duplication and data loss. Medical staff can potentially add the same person to the database twice or make mistakes when filling out patient profiles.
To simplify the data migration process for healthcare organizations, you should learn their common data migration strategies and offer convenient tools. Also, provide a training mode so users can get to know how the data migration mechanism works before they start the final migration.
Ensuring advanced interoperability. A comprehensive EHR solution must be able to integrate with different third-party solutions that are used by a variety of healthcare providers, laboratories, and insurance companies.
To overcome the lack of interoperability and improve your product’s integration capabilities, pay attention to government programs for healthcare industry modernization. For instance, explore the Connecting Health and Care for the Nation. A Shared Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap developed by the US Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.
Also, you should apply standards for exchanging healthcare information electronically like the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) specification, which is valid for the US.
Complying with regulations. Healthcare industry standards are strictly controlled by various national and worldwide regulations. Therefore, compliance is vital for every EHR solution. You have to ensure that all functionalities meet the requirements of major standards.
Depending on the area where healthcare providers operate, they have to comply with corresponding local standards. The most important are:
- the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), a law that requires US-based healthcare organizations to adopt national standards for the management and security of electronic healthcare transactions. Pay attention to section §164.312 Technical safeguards [PDF] and make sure your solution complies with the recommended safeguards.
- the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (the HITECH act), a US law that aims to improve healthcare quality, safety, and efficiency. It defines standards for EHR systems and health information technology and includes privacy and security provisions.
- the Data Protection Act, which affects organizations that operate in the UK. It defines principles for data protection and empowers people to take control of their data by providing information about their rights. UK-based healthcare organizations must comply with this law.
- the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a data and privacy protection regulation for businesses that operate in the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA). If an organization is located outside these areas but serves customers from the EU or EEA, it also has to comply with GDPR requirements. Regarding EHR solutions, GDPR provides Recommendations on a European Electronic Health Record exchange format.
You may also explore documents prepared within the NIST health IT Usability initiative, such as the Technical Evaluation, Testing, and Validation of the Usability of Electronic Health Records publication, where NIST offers requirements for validation testing of EHR systems.
Ensuring data security and privacy. The regulations mentioned above require healthcare providers to protect private information of patients. Therefore, you might want to enable your EHR software with:
- multi-factor authentication
- advanced password security
- data encryption with Transport Layer Security (TLS)
- critical data backups
Also, when building a SaaS EHR solution from scratch, it’s a good practice to implement the secure software development lifecycle (S-SDLC) approach. This approach requires performing security-related activities during each stage of development, thus raising the overall level of data protection within the created system.
EHR systems are crucial for an efficient workflow in healthcare organizations. They have to securely store tons of sensitive information and, at the same time, allow for its fast and efficient management. The best way to ensure simple management, advanced accessibility, and cost efficiency is to develop an EHR system as a SaaS solution.
Building a viable EHR system is challenging. It requires extensive experience in software development, thorough research and planning, and a deep understanding of healthcare industry specifics.
At Apriorit, we have dedicated specialists who know how to develop reliable SaaS solutions for the healthcare industry. Our team is ready to provide you with high-quality EHR software development services and build a robust product. Contact us to start discussing your project right away.