Why quality assurance is critical to healthcare IT projects
Ensuring technology actually delivers on the results it promises must occur at the beginning and throughout initiatives, not just at the end.
Those in the healthcare industry are usually familiar with the concept of the “Triple Aim” as the formula for bringing the U.S. healthcare system to its pinnacle.
The Triple Aim is composed of three fundamental goals for improvement – better population health, reduced per capita costs and, finally, improved patient experience (including both quality of care and satisfaction). Quality is built into the Triple Aim model as a fundamental component for success. However, this isn’t always the case on the HIT side.
Traditionally in the IT world, product development consists of five main processes - conception, research, analysis, development and finally launch. Missing from that model is what many SaaS organizations, IT departments and engineering teams make the very costly oversight of neglecting until during and well after a product launch -- Quality Assurance (QA).
A lack of a vision for quality in a HIT project that isn’t established up front, both in terms of quality relating to the client experience and to the product functionality, can completely derail an IT project.
HIT leaders should take a note from the healthcare industry in terms of thinking through a design process that makes sense. While the old ways of doing things in the healthcare world were based on a fee-for-service model that rewarded based on outputs, the new world of medicine focuses on outcomes – that is, how effectively did the solution solve the issue?
Similarly for the tech world, pushing out new products with little forethought or planning for quality can reap short term benefits, but have devastating financial or worse, clinical, consequences.
HIT leaders and their teams can take the following three steps as they work to transform QA into a practice that happens on the front end of the product development process.
Create a Culture of Customer Collaboration. Establishing working relationships with customers allows HIT teams to collectively paint a picture of what the product or solution is to become. Every IT department will be better served by establishing protocols that enable a culture of external customer and internal customer collaboration. Protocols that can embed customers as an essential part of the QA process and ultimate product design include regular user meetings, releasing minimum viable products (MVPs) to clients early for testing, and utilizing data driven feedback loops.
Include a Diverse Testing Team early and often. The traditional testing team is often a back-office team that executes the test cases and documents the results. Including these teams in the discovery process, instead of keeping them on the fringe, allows them not only better understand the requirements and what to test for, but also helps them understand the subtle nuances of each user story and the expected behavior. This understanding in the early phases of the design process can ultimately lead to a better product.
Add Quality of Experience to the QA Process. The definition of quality is often limited to coding or software quality, but like the Triple Aim in healthcare, “quality” should also be about the quality of the experience. HIT teams should map out what behaviors can lead to the delivery of quality experiences and correspondingly, what processes can be put into place to encourage and support those behaviors.
Tech leaders can take a note from the healthcare industry improvement framework, establishing a paradigm in which implementing QA upfront as part of the design process and sustaining throughout the product development process is standard protocol, not an afterthought.
Quality and operationalization of IT deliverables must not only be prioritized on the same footing as “external” requirements and features, but also something that is baked into the fabric of the IT development process from the start.
Mike Nolan is Chief Operating Officer at HST Pathways, a leading provider of cloud-based technology for ambulatory surgery centers nationwide.