Thought Leadership

Device-Agnostic Software is the Future of Medical Care

Most medical devices come with their own software. This seems like a necessity in the digital age, where software is a key piece of every medical function. But consider the ultimate consequences. Dozens of software systems, many of them device-specific, forming a tangled web of technological complexity throughout a hospital system.

Medical technology companies manufacture more than 500,000 different types of medical devices, according to Deliotte. Almost every patient interaction with the healthcare system includes one or more of these medical devices.

It’s no wonder hospital administrators and medical IT departments are frustrated. Endless integrations. Complex software upgrades and retrofits. Technical bugs and workarounds. All compounded by dozens of software systems that only work with a single set of devices. The entire system is configured in a way that requires more and more work as more siloed software systems are added to the mix.

Enter device-agnostic software. This solution allows one software platform to work across devices no matter which company supplies or manufactures the hardware. By breaking the link between medical device company and software system, hospitals are freed up to simplify and streamline an increasingly complex technology environment.

Here are five benefits of device-agnostic software:

  1. Stops Software Splintering

Device-specific software is alluring to hardware makers because it can lock hospitals and clinics into long-term loyalty to their devices. For hospital systems, changing software systems is a barrier much steeper than simply plugging in a new device. So if we left it up to the market, device-specific software systems would continue proliferating.

This flood of new medical devices and software systems is not expected to stop anytime soon. In 2017, 13,090 medical technology patents were filed globally – the most of any category of products, according to Deliotte.

Software splintering is unsustainable for hospitals and clinics. An already needlessly complex software environment would only become more complex with each new hardware purchase.

Device-agnostic software stops this splintering, giving hospitals the means to simplify their software worlds through consolidation and a true integration of all software.

  1. Allows Software to Scale

Software is not static. Or at least it shouldn’t be. It should grow, refine and develop. Device-specific software makers who create software as an afterthought to fuel device sales don’t have the same commitment to the long-term growth of the software experience.

Software failure is a leading cause of medical device recalls, according to research by Stericycle Expert Solutions. In fact, for 10 consecutive quarters, software issues were the leading cause of recall.

“Part of the explanation could be that medical device companies have traditionally been focused on physical hardware, leaving software as something of a blind spot,” wrote Chris Lo in Medical Device Network.

As data becomes more important and Artificial Intelligence fuels new medical breakthroughs, a software partner dedicated to long-term evolution of the platform, and the focus on flawless functionality of the code, can deliver huge benefits to medical systems.

  1. Powers the User Experience

The user experience is dominated by software. Data entry, diagnostic accuracy and intuitive and efficient technology interactions all depend on software.

“Designing and engineering software that responds as expected in a safety-critical environment is tough enough, but designing UIs [user interfaces] that minimize user error and make sense to medical professionals (or even patients) who don’t have software engineering degrees, adds another layer of complexity,” wrote Lo in Medical Device Network.

The user experience is both the physician and the patient interaction. Physicians that interact with intuitive, streamlined software find their jobs are made easier, frustrations diminished, burnout avoided and errors reduced. Patients also experience a seamless and streamlined consultation, with software playing an almost invisible, yet critical role in making diagnosis, data and referrals easy and intuitive.

Medical technology companies dedicated to building software that works across devices are also more likely to put the care and thought into building platforms that put the user experience at the forefront.

  1. Leads Medical Device Development

Software should never be an afterthought. In fact, it should lead device development in many ways.

Nearly 10 years ago, pioneering Silicon Valley investor Marc Andreessen famously said, “Software is eating the world.” Now, Adam MacBeth, the mind behind hardware blockbusters like the iPod and Jawbone’s wristbands says “Software is eating hardware.”

“The software team needs to take the lead in driving a product’s functional development. Software is the aspect most responsible for creating the behavior exposed to the user,” said MacBeth.

As the engine of the user experience, software should be the key component of device development. Letting software lead does not reduce the importance of industrial design elements to hardware. It simply synchronizes the user experience and the hardware design. Doing this in a device-agnostic platform shares this user-first approach across devices.

  1. Generates New Functions from Same Device

Software allows a medical device to evolve and add functionality even as the physical device stays the same. This creates a device that can meet the challenges of the future.

As MacBeth notes, “It’s incredible what programming is able to make possible. If you buy a Tesla Model S today, the behavior of the car six months from now could be radically different because software can reshape the capability of the hardware continuously, exceeding the speed of customer demand.”

The same is true with medical devices. As new capabilities arise using the same sensors and imaging technology, software can easily unlock these new capabilities, without every having to change devices. The fluid nature of this software-driven adaptability makes hardware more malleable and long-lasting than ever before.