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Build Versus Buy: Key Considerations for Implementing a Telemedicine Platform

Telemedicine use was on the rise even before COVID-19’s appearance. However, its use has now skyrocketed, as medical professionals implement creative ways to see patients without having them physically come into a hospital or other health care setting. Virtual consultations are now one of the only ways that some individuals can get medical care.

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While providers generally agree that telemedicine will continue to be a big part of healthcare, there is some debate about the proper way to implement it. One of the most fundamental questions is: Does it make more sense to buy ready-made software or create a custom-made solution?

How decision-makers choose to implement a telemedicine solution will dictate how they interact with their patients, the access that patients have to proper healthcare, and even the confidence that patients have in their level of care. Getting the right information about each option is a critical first step toward making this significant decision.

The decision certainly deserves some careful planning and thought. The following considerations should be part of the decision-making process.

Platform Features

Telemedicine software will vary in whatever features it offers. Although you cannot change features when you purchase market-ready software, you can review the software and pick the choice that will work the best for your needs. The features are often somewhat generic and rigid. You might be able to customize some aspects, but you certainly will not get a tailored solution when you purchase “off-the-shelf” software.

When you create your own software, you can customize it however you would like. You have complete control over which features will be included in your software. Some of the most advanced features that would not be available in a purchased software—such as chat boxes, artificial intelligence features, analytics, and more—can easily be added to a customized program. You can also create the software so that it works seamlessly with your existing interface.

Price and Budget Requirements

A ready-made software program is likely going to have lower up-front costs. However, you may be surprised to learn just how much additional costs are added when you consider upkeep and ongoing maintenance expenses. For example, subscription fees are often required, and you will have to pay for ongoing updates as they are developed.

Creating a custom program has a higher up-front cost. There are generally no ongoing subscription fees, but you may need to occasionally create updates and tweak performance as you use the software. Larger software updates that often come along with market-ready products simply are not as relevant or prevalent for custom-made software.

Flexibility and Scalability

A custom-made platform is going to be more flexible than ready-made software that you can buy. The off-the-shelf version is going to have the same basic features as any other healthcare provider. You can sometimes add more features for a fee, but, overall, the product is essentially the same as whatever is offered to anyone else.

In contrast, creating your own software allows you to customize it in a way that fits with your needs. If you add a feature, for example, but decide it is not working as well as you intended, you can change it or adjust it to work better. In fact, you can continue to make adjustments even after the software is in use. You can take feedback from real users to make their jobs easier and more productive.

You can also scale the product more effectively than a ready-made solution. If one department is smaller and does not need some of the more advanced features, for example, you can remove those or decrease some of the functionality.

Ownership and Maintenance

When you buy off-the-shelf software, you are entirely at the developer’s mercy in terms of updates and support. If the developer suddenly decides not to support the software any longer (often so that you are forced to purchase an upgrade), you can run into huge costs and headaches to transition away from that product. They also retain the intellectual property of the software, which means that you might not be able to integrate it into your feature software updates.

A custom-made solution can be updated as often as you like. You control the support, development, and upgrades. By retaining ownership, regardless of whether you create the software with an in-house team or use outside development, you retain ownership—so there is virtually no risk that the software will suddenly lack support.

Implementation and Development Timeline

Perhaps the biggest appeal for a ready-made solution is that it is already ready to go. There is no development, no testing period, and no waiting. You simply pick the software, implement it (with some training for your team), and move on with providing patient care.

A customizable solution takes more time to develop for you. It implements your ideas, feedback, and goals for the software. The result is much more tailored to the needs of you and your team, but it takes time to create and implement. Like most things, having a better product over the long-term takes time to create.

Which Option Will Work Best for Me?

The best option for you will depend on your goals and priorities. If you want a quick fix that provides a cheaper solution but is not necessarily designed to be long-term, then an off-the-shelf software may be a good option. On the other hand, if you want a custom-made product that allows you to make adjustments, control the process, and create a solution that will last for years, creating your own software is likely a better option. 

If you are interested in a custom-built product for your organization, please contact us for a consultation.