A Detailed Guide On Custom vs Off-The-Shelf Software for The Healthcare Industry
  • |
  • 13 minutes read

Imagine Dr. Smith, a dedicated pediatrician with a warm smile and a kind bedside manner. However, her days are filled with frustration rather than patient care. Dr. Smith spends countless minutes daily wrestling with her clinic’s Electronic Health Record (EHR) system. The clunky interface forces her to click through endless menus and navigate rigid features that don’t reflect her practice’s workflow. Due to poor user experience, updating patient information feels like a chore, and scheduling appointments requires navigating a maze of drop-down menus. This inefficiency in her digital software not only disrupts Dr. Smith’s day but also impacts the quality of care she provides.

This scenario is all too common in healthcare. Many healthcare providers and organizations struggle with incompetent or amateurish software that hinders their efficiency, creates data silos, and ultimately frustrates both staff and patients. Choosing and integrating the wrong software costs all stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem. Choosing the wrong or poorly designed software can have a significant impact on:

  • Staff Productivity: Inefficient software leads to wasted time and frustration, hindering staff productivity and morale.
  • Patient Care: Cumbersome workflows and limited functionality can negatively impact the quality of patient care.
  • Adaptability: The healthcare landscape is constantly evolving. Rigid or ready-made software may struggle to adapt to changing regulations and industry standards.

The good news is that there’s light at the end of the tunnel!

Healthcare providers and startup founders can control the software that matches their patients’ or users’ demands, fostering a digital ecosystem where workflows are streamlined, administrative barriers are mitigated, and patient care is enhanced. This blog post will explore the two main types of healthcare software: custom and off-the-shelf. We’ll delve into the advantages and limitations of each option, explore real-world scenarios where each shines, and offer considerations to help you choose the software that best fits your specific needs. By the end of this blog post, you’ll be well-equipped to navigate the software landscape and find the perfect solution to empower your healthcare practice or digital health startup.

Understanding Off-the-Shelf Software

Off-the-shelf software, sometimes referred to as “commercial software” or “pre-packaged software”, is a ready-made solution designed to meet the general needs of a broad user base. These software solutions are readily available for purchase and can often be implemented quickly, making them an attractive option for some healthcare providers and startups.

For example, a small clinic might choose an off-the-shelf appointment scheduling software to manage patient bookings, basic patient information, and billing.

Core Benefit: Cost and Speed

The primary appeal of off-the-shelf software lies in its lower upfront cost compared to custom development. Since the software is already built and tested, there’s no need for the initial investment associated with custom development. Additionally, off-the-shelf software boasts quick implementation. With minimal configuration needed, you can be up and running with the software in a short timeframe. This can be ideal for situations where a quick solution is necessary. Many off-the-shelf vendors also offer some level of vendor support, which can help troubleshoot basic issues.

Use Cases

For Health Startups

In the fast-paced world of healthcare startups, getting to market quickly is crucial. Off-the-shelf software can act as a launchpad for these startups as it is quick, cost-effective, and offers readily available resources. 

Essential Business Functions:

Startups often operate with limited resources. Off-the-shelf solutions offer a cost-effective way to handle essential back-office functions like:

  • Accounting: Utilize readily available accounting software to manage finances, generate reports, and ensure smooth financial operations.
  • CRM (Customer Relationship Management): Implement an off-the-shelf CRM to manage patient interactions, track leads, and nurture customer relationships.
  • Project Management: Streamline project workflows with readily available project management software, ensuring tasks stay on track and deadlines are met.
Cost-Effective Foundation

Starting a business often means working with limited funds. Off-the-shelf software provides a cost-effective way to handle your back-office needs without breaking the bank. This allows you to invest more resources into developing your unique product or service and validating your MVP (Minimum Viable Product).

Focusing on Core Innovation

Don’t get bogged down in building complex software from scratch. Off-the-shelf solutions handle the essentials, freeing up your team to focus on developing the groundbreaking features that will set your startup apart in the healthcare landscape.

For Healthcare Organizations:

For smaller healthcare practices, managing complex software solutions can feel overwhelming. Off-the-shelf software offers a user-friendly and cost-effective approach to:

  • Simplified Patient Management: Consolidate appointment scheduling, billing, and basic electronic health records (EHR) into a single, user-friendly platform. This reduces administrative burdens and streamlines workflows for staff, allowing them to dedicate more time to patient care.
  • Rapid Implementation: Off-the-shelf software typically requires minimal setup and training, allowing smaller practices to get up and running quickly without extensive IT resources. This minimizes disruption to daily operations and ensures a smooth transition to a new system.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: Off-the-shelf solutions come with predictable pricing plans, making them ideal for smaller practices with limited budgets. Subscription-based models often eliminate the upfront investment of custom software development, allowing for better financial planning.
  • Scalability Options: Many off-the-shelf solutions offer tiered pricing plans or modular add-on features. This allows smaller practices to choose a solution that fits their current needs and budget, with the option to scale up as their patient base and complexity grow.

By leveraging off-the-shelf software, smaller healthcare practices can gain significant advantages in terms of efficient operations, cost-effectiveness, and a user-friendly experience for both staff and patients. This allows them to focus on what matters most – delivering high-quality care.

Advantages of Off-the-Shelf Software

  • Lower Upfront Cost: Off-the-shelf software typically requires a lower initial investment compared to custom development.
  • Quick Implementation: These solutions can be implemented quickly with minimal setup time.
  • Vendor Support: Many vendors offer basic support for troubleshooting and user guidance.

Limitations of Off-the-Shelf Software

  • Generic Features: Off-the-shelf software offers generic features that may not perfectly align with your specific workflows, potentially hindering efficiency.
  • Limited Customization: Customization options are typically limited, making it difficult to adapt the software to your unique needs.
  • Integration Challenges: Integrating off-the-shelf software with existing systems can be challenging, leading to data silos and manual data entry.

Understanding Custom Software

Custom software is built from the ground up to meet the specific needs and workflows of a particular user or organization. Unlike off-the-shelf software with generic features, custom software is designed to perfectly fit your unique way of doing business.

For example, a large hospital system develops custom software to automate patient intake, streamline referral processes, ensure seamless data exchange across various departments, improve patient care coordination, and reduce administrative burdens.

Core Benefit: Tailored Functionality

The key advantage of custom software is its ability to be tailored to your specific needs. Imagine software that reflects your workflow, not the other way around. Custom software can be designed with features that seamlessly integrate with existing processes, eliminating the need for cumbersome workarounds and manual data entry.

Use Cases

For Health Startups:

  • Develop disruptive healthcare solutions: Custom software empowers startups to create entirely new applications that address unmet needs in healthcare. Imagine building a platform for remote patient monitoring with real-time data analysis, or developing a mobile app that utilizes AI to personalize patient education materials. Off-the-shelf solutions typically lack the flexibility to build such groundbreaking features.
  • Automated Tasks: Eliminate time-consuming administrative burdens with custom software automation. Tasks like appointment scheduling, report generation, and pre-populating intake forms become effortless, freeing up valuable time for providers and MAs to focus on delivering exceptional patient care.
  • Building an MVP: New-age health startups look to build new and disruptive products to create a unique proposition in the market. This is where custom software comes to help as it assists these startups to create software with features and functionalities suited exactly to their vision. Custom software offers flexibility, personalization, and agility, making it a first choice for these startups.
  • Tailor features for specific personas: Custom software allows startups to build solutions catering to the unique needs of everyone in the healthcare ecosystem. Let’s look at a few examples:
    – Creating a telehealth platform that empowers providers to conduct remote consultations and diagnoses, expanding access to care for patients in remote areas.
    – Or building an AI-based voice assistant that acts as a virtual teammate for MAs, automating tasks like appointment scheduling, intelligently populating intake forms based on patient responses, and facilitating referral requests with relevant medical history details, freeing up valuable time for patient interaction.

By tailoring features to specific personas, custom software fosters a more efficient and well-coordinated healthcare environment, benefiting providers, MAs, and ultimately, the patients they serve.

Digicorp and Theraputix collaborated to build a custom remote monitoring solution. Check out the case study.

For Healthcare Organizations:

  • Optimize complex workflows across departments: Custom software shines in organizations with intricate workflows that span multiple departments. Imagine creating a unified scheduling system that integrates with billing, patient records, and lab results, streamlining communication across departments.
  • Automate repetitive tasks and improve efficiency: Reduce administrative burdens and free up staff time by automating repetitive tasks. This could involve building custom software to automate appointment reminders, generate reports, process insurance claims, or even pre-populate patient intake forms based on appointment type. While some off-the-shelf solutions offer basic automation, custom software allows for a more comprehensive approach.
  • Build a custom Electronic Health Record (EHR) system: For healthcare organizations with highly specialized needs, a custom EHR system can be invaluable. This allows them to manage patient data specific to their practice area, ensuring optimal data organization and retrieval.
  • Facilitate advanced data analytics and reporting: Custom software allows healthcare organizations to leverage their data for deeper insights. Imagine building a custom platform that integrates with various systems and generates comprehensive reports on patient outcomes, treatment trends, or resource utilization. Custom software empowers organizations to conduct advanced data analysis and gain valuable insights to improve patient care and optimize operations.

Digicorp has been working with a US-based healthcare organization for 13+ years, helping them build a wide range of custom solutions. Check out the EHR case study.

Advantages of Custom Software

Off-the-shelf software can cramp your unique workflow, like a one-size-fits-all gym routine.

Custom software is your personalized healthcare hero!

  • Workflow Wizard: Stop forcing your practice into generic software. Custom software adapts to your specific needs, like building a workout plan for your practice, not a generic gym routine.
  • Efficiency Explosion: Stop wasting time on repetitive tasks! Custom software automates things like appointment reminders, freeing up your staff to focus on patients, like nurses spending less time on paperwork and more time connecting.
  • Integration All-Star: Break down data silos! Custom software seamlessly integrates with your existing systems, creating a unified platform for all your healthcare data. Imagine having all patient information accessible in one place, like having all your gym equipment in one convenient location.
  • Scalability Superhero: The future is bright! Custom software is built to scale with your practice, allowing you to add features or integrations as needed. Think of it as a software solution that grows alongside your practice, like your fitness goals constantly evolving.

Limitations of Custom Software

  • Higher Upfront Investment: Custom software development typically requires a larger initial investment compared to off-the-shelf solutions.
  • Development Time: Building custom software takes time, so it may not be ideal for situations requiring a quick implementation.
Advantages of Custom Software & Off The Shelf Software in Healthcare

The Software Showdown: Real-World Examples of Custom vs. Off-the-Shelf in Healthcare

Let’s take a step beyond theory and see how custom and off-the-shelf software solutions play out in real-world scenarios:

Scenario 1: Off-the-Shelf Streamlines a Small Practice Workflow

Imagine Dr. Jones, a dedicated family physician running a cozy clinic with a nurse and a receptionist. Their current system is a disorganized mix of paper charts and spreadsheets, making appointment scheduling a nightmare and patient information difficult to manage.

Off-the-shelf to the rescue! Dr. Jones implements a readily available practice management software with features like:

  • Appointment Scheduling: Effortlessly manage patient bookings, track availability, and send automated appointment reminders.
  • Basic Electronic Health Records (EHR): Securely store patient information, efficiently access medical history, and streamline documentation processes.
  • Billing and Insurance: Automate insurance claims submission, track payments, and generate reports for financial management.

Benefits for Dr. Jones’s Practice:

  • Improved Efficiency: Automating tasks and centralizing patient data saves time and reduces administrative burdens.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: Off-the-shelf software offers a lower initial investment compared to custom development.
  • Quick Implementation: The software can be implemented quickly with minimal disruption to the practice workflow.
  • Vendor Support: The vendor provides basic support for troubleshooting and user guidance.

Scenario 2: Custom Software Empowers a Growing Hospital

Now consider City General Hospital, a bustling institution with multiple departments, specialists, and a constant flow of patients. Their needs extend far beyond basic appointment scheduling and require a more sophisticated software solution. This is where custom software shines.

Challenges of Off-the-Shelf Software:

  • Generic Features: Off-the-shelf software might not integrate scheduling across various departments, leading to communication gaps and inefficiencies.
  • Limited Customization: Customizing features to accommodate complex workflows and specific patient populations wouldn’t be possible.
  • Integration Challenges: Integrating off-the-shelf software with existing systems like lab equipment or specialized software might be difficult, creating data silos.

City General Hospital Chooses Custom Software:

By opting for custom software development, City General Hospital can address its unique challenges and achieve several key benefits:

  • Optimized Workflows: Custom software can be designed to streamline processes across departments, improve communication, and optimize patient care coordination.
  • Seamless Integration: The software can integrate seamlessly with existing systems, creating a unified platform for all healthcare data.
  • Scalability: The software can be designed to grow with the hospital’s needs, accommodating future expansion or adoption of new technologies.
  • Enhanced Patient Care: By improving efficiency and facilitating communication, custom software can lead to a more positive patient experience and better overall care delivery.

This scenario highlights how custom software empowers organizations to overcome limitations and build a solution that perfectly aligns with their specific needs and growth trajectory.

Beyond the Basics: Considerations While Choosing a Software for Your Business

Let’s delve deeper into some key factors beyond cost and speed to consider when choosing software for your healthcare organization or startup:

Security and Compliance
Security and Compliance
Scalability and Future Needs
Scalability and Future Needs
Integration Capabilities
Integration Capabilities
Training and Support
Training and Support
  • Security and Compliance: In healthcare, protecting sensitive patient data is a top priority. A data breach can have devastating consequences, harming patient privacy and incurring hefty fines. Evaluate the software’s security features, to ensure that they include robust encryption protocols, user access controls, and regular security audits. Additionally, confirm the software’s compliance with relevant data privacy regulations like HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) in the United States. Finally, inquire about the vendor’s disaster recovery protocols to ensure your data is safeguarded in case of unforeseen circumstances.
  • Scalability and Future Needs: The healthcare landscape is constantly evolving, and your organization’s needs will likely change over time. Don’t get locked into software that can’t keep pace. Choose software designed with scalability in mind. Consider factors like user capacity, data storage limitations, and the ability to integrate with future technologies.
  • Integration Capabilities: The healthcare ecosystem relies on a complex network of systems – Electronic Health Records (EHRs), billing software, lab equipment, and more. Seamless integration between your chosen software and these existing systems is crucial to avoid data silos and manual data entry. Evaluate the software’s integration capabilities and look for vendors who offer robust APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) and support for various data formats to facilitate seamless data exchange.
  • Training and Support: Even the most user-friendly software requires some level of training to ensure your staff can utilize it effectively. Beyond initial training, consider the ongoing support offered by the vendor. Will they provide assistance with troubleshooting, answer questions, and offer updates and technical support as needed? Evaluate these factors before making your choice.

By carefully considering these additional factors alongside cost and speed, you can make an informed decision that ensures the chosen software empowers your healthcare practice or startup for long-term success. A well-rounded software solution will streamline your current operations and provide a secure and scalable foundation for future growth and adaptation.

Digicorp partners with healthcare organizations to build human-centered software for the future. Take a deeper look into Digicorp’s expertise in healthcare software development.

Digicorp’s Perspective: Custom Software for Specific Needs

At Digicorp, we believe custom software is the ideal solution for healthcare organizations and startups with specific needs and complex workflows. Off-the-shelf software, while offering a quick and cost-effective entry point, may struggle to adapt to the unique nuances of your practice or organization.

Here’s why custom software shines in healthcare:

  • Optimizing Workflows: Custom software is built around your specific way of doing business, eliminating the need to adapt to generic features and streamlining your processes for maximum efficiency.
  • Complex Needs: Do you manage a large hospital with intricate scheduling requirements across various departments? Custom software can integrate seamlessly with existing systems and be designed to handle even the most complex workflows.
  • Future-Proofing: The healthcare landscape is constantly evolving. Custom software is built with scalability in mind, allowing you to adapt and integrate new technologies as your needs change.

We Build for Healthcare Innovation:

At Digicorp, we specialize in building custom software solutions for healthcare clients. We partner with you to understand your unique challenges and goals, and then craft a solution that:

  • Optimizes workflows and automates repetitive tasks.
  • Integrates seamlessly with your existing healthcare ecosystem.
  • Ensures robust security and HIPAA compliance.
  • Provides a scalable foundation for future growth and innovation.

Conclusion: The Perfect Fit for Your Healthcare Journey

Choosing the right software solution is a crucial decision for any healthcare organization or startup. While cost and speed are important factors, prioritizing features that meet your specific needs and ensure long-term scalability is paramount.

For organizations and startups with complex workflows, unique patient populations, or a vision for continuous growth, custom software offers a powerful advantage. It empowers you to build a solution that perfectly aligns with your healthcare journey, fostering efficiency, innovation, and ultimately, superior patient care.

Ready to explore the possibilities of custom software for your healthcare venture? Contact Digicorp today for a free consultation!

FAQs: Custom vs. Off-the-Shelf Software in Healthcare

Choosing between custom and off-the-shelf software can be a tough decision for healthcare providers and startups. This FAQ section aims to answer some of the most common questions to help you navigate the software selection process:

Not necessarily. Off-the-shelf software can be a good choice for smaller practices with basic needs like appointment scheduling and basic EHR functionality. However, for organizations with complex workflows, specific patient populations, or a vision for future growth, custom software offers a more powerful and adaptable solution.

  • Limited customization: Off-the-shelf software may not cater to your specific workflows, forcing you to adapt your processes to the software’s limitations.
  • Integration challenges: Integrating off-the-shelf software with existing systems can be difficult, leading to data silos and manual data entry.
  • Scalability limitations: Off-the-shelf software may not be able to grow with your organization’s needs, requiring a future switch to a new system.

Custom software development typically has a higher upfront cost compared to off-the-shelf solutions. However, the long-term benefits of a perfectly tailored solution, improved efficiency, and future-proofing your software foundation can outweigh the initial investment.

The development time for custom software varies depending on the complexity of your needs. However, compared to off-the-shelf solutions that offer a quick implementation, custom software development typically requires a longer timeframe to design, build, and test.

Here are some important factors to evaluate:

  • Workflow management: Does the software fit your existing workflows or require significant adjustments on your end?
  • Integration capabilities: Can the software integrate seamlessly with your existing EHR, billing system, and other healthcare IT infrastructure?
  • Security and compliance: Does the software prioritize robust security features and ensure compliance with HIPAA regulations?
  • Scalability and future growth: Can the software adapt and grow with your organization’s future needs?
  • Training and support: Does the vendor offer adequate training and ongoing support for your staff?

Digicorp is a leading provider of custom software solutions for the healthcare industry. We offer a wealth of resources on our website, including blog posts, case studies, and white papers related to healthcare software development. Feel free to browse our website or contact us directly for a free consultation to discuss your specific needs.

Sanket Patel

Sanket Patel is the co-founder of Digicorp with 20+ years of experience in the Healthtech industry. Over the years, he has used his business, strategy, and product development skills to form and grow successful partnerships with the thought leaders of the Healthcare spectrum. He has played a pivotal role on projects like EHR, QCare+, Exercise Buddy, and MePreg and in shaping successful ventures such as TechSoup, Cricheroes, and Rejig. In addition to his professional achievements, he is an avid road-tripper, trekker, tech enthusiast, and film buff.

  • Posted on June 13, 2024

Sanket Patel is the co-founder of Digicorp with 20+ years of experience in the Healthtech industry. Over the years, he has used his business, strategy, and product development skills to form and grow successful partnerships with the thought leaders of the Healthcare spectrum. He has played a pivotal role on projects like EHR, QCare+, Exercise Buddy, and MePreg and in shaping successful ventures such as TechSoup, Cricheroes, and Rejig. In addition to his professional achievements, he is an avid road-tripper, trekker, tech enthusiast, and film buff.

Stay In Touch - Digicorp

Stay in Touch!

Get Our Case Studies, Newsletters, Blogs and Infographics Directly into Your Inbox