No one-size-fits-all solution to updating legacy healthcare software

20 July 2023 4 min. read
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With the UK’s health service groaning under the weight of mounting demand and funding shortages, practitioners are increasingly having to rely on telehealth, remote care and contactless patient-staff interactions to deliver care – but this has in turn exposed a need to either replace or rearchitect legacy healthcare software. Lindsay Lucas, CEO of data specialist Software Solved, explains how third-party development teams can offer skills and experience needed to plug these gaps most efficiently.

The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the inefficiencies in healthcare systems and approaches. With the rising need for telehealth, remote care and contactless patient/staff interactions, healthcare providers need to either replace or rearchitect their legacy healthcare software with modern custom-built data and software solutions. 

Telehealth provides convenience to patients with the potential to improve patient outcomes by ensuring symptoms are discussed with medical professionals as soon as possible. A 2021 report from Kaspersky Lab found that 73% of health systems used medical equipment running legacy operating systems. Not coincidentally, only 34% of organisations said they had up-to-date and adequate hardware and software security protections. 

No one-size-fits-all solution to updating legacy healthcare software

Consequences of inaction

Only 9% of healthcare organisations have prioritised the removal of legacy systems as part of their overall cyber security strategy, according to a 2021 Healthcare Financial Management Association survey. This poses a security risk for a simple reason: A lack of support from the manufacturer generally means a lack of security patches. 

Updating legacy software needs to meet government requirements, such as GDPR compliance regarding data protection and cyber security. Failure to do so can result in huge fines and reputational damage. On top of this, patient expectations are growing in terms of remote care via mobile app technology. Healthcare providers need to ensure system operability with new data formats, all while guaranteeing patient data security. 

If Electronic Health Records (EHR) or other medical software is decades old, it is more than likely that healthcare providers will begin to have a hard time keeping it running. Due to the skills gap (as people retire and are not replaced or replaced with those with no experience in maintaining aging systems), keeping legacy systems running becomes increasingly costly and complicated. 

The keys to success

The success of a healthcare provider relies on ensuring that the sum of its moving parts (people, hardware, software) works well together. All software gets old with the passage of time, so healthcare providers need to either replace outdated software or try to keep it running at all costs. 

Technology continues to dominate the future of healthcare, with telehealth, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and remote patient monitoring in real-time all innovations to watch. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to updating legacy healthcare systems, but there are seven main approaches as identified by analyst firm Gartner: encapsulate, rehost, refactor, rearchitect, rebuild and replace. 

Which approach is best depends on a range of factors, including: cost, how quickly the modernisation needs to happen, the number and type of other legacy systems that need modernising, the healthcare providers cloud strategy and the overall business strategy. 

Third-party providers can help

Healthcare providers should look to third-party custom software and data specialists to help evaluate and implement the modernisation solution that has the maximum positive impact for patient care. What in-house developers sometimes lack are the skills or time needed to implement features that will enhance a telehealth application’s functionality. Third-party software developers can help the healthcare sector to leverage proven, feature-rich technology to expand their capabilities and improve patient care.  

Third-party software development teams can offer the experience and expertise needed to build the core architecture and innovative features of new telehealth applications. In many cases, they’re designing something unique that will provide a point of differentiation in the healthcare market. Without the additional demands of internal projects slowing development, third parties can move forward unincumbered to deliver a faster return on investment. In addition, they bring a broad experience of other systems that means they naturally spend more time on refining and expanding their capabilities, so the more likely the application is to make a positive impact.  

Founded in 1998, IT services and consulting firm Software Solved has helped clients withing the customised software and data industry for 25 years, supporting projects of every shape and size.