Should Clinicians be Software Developers?

Wait… am I a software developer now? When healthcare organizations decide to implement an electronic medical record (EMR), I am unsure if leadership truly understands that they are adopting a vastly different core competency than patient care, which is Software Development.  Software Development Life Cycle, or SDLC, is a framework that employs several different models used in the development of a software product.  Within each model there are tasks and activities that take place during the development process.  The goal of following a software development model is to find repeatable, predictable processes that improve productivity and the quality of the EMR.  The main problem facing healthcare organizations today is having to learn how to lead and manage EMR implementation teams, which are – at its core – clinicians turned software developers.

When most healthcare organizations take on the monumental task of implementing an EMR, they usually recruit implementation team members from the clinical or operational world.  These may be Registered Nurses, Therapists, Pharmacy Technicians, or even Physicians.  Most of the time, these people have used a computer before but have never been exposed to any kind of software development process.  Understanding clinical workflows and patient flow is indeed critical to any good analyst but following tried and true software development principles should be espoused and promoted by the Project Managers.

If Project Managers begin treating implementation teams like software developers instead of clinicians that are EMR-certified, there can be efficiencies realized in all aspects of the project.   Sound requirements’ analysis leads to shorter development cycles; sound development principles lead to fewer bugs or gliches found in testing; sound testing methods lead to fewer bugs in the production environment; and so on and so forth.  For example, Epic Systems Corporation defines the stages of implementation that can be directly associated with stages of the any software development model.  The tasks and activities within each stage may or may not be defined by the EMR vendor’s project plan, but they are definitely defined within all software development models.

With all of this, said you may be wondering “What does this mean to me?”  It would behoove Project Directors and Managers to distribute copies of the same software development book to the entire team; assign a chapter a week and discuss how the subject matter applies to the project;  discuss how the principles of software development apply to each and every analyst, etc.  Everyone will speak the same lingo as it pertains to requirements gathering, development, testing, releasing and maintaining.  New ideas about how to complete a specific task will come from the most unlikely sources.  Instead of the analysts looking at the project plan with glazed over eyes, they will be able to fully understand where they are and where they need to be.  Yes, a clinician can be a great software developer.