Introduction   

With the arrival of Web 2.0 technologies and, eventually, software delivery through the Software as a Service (SaaS) model, traditional software engineering approaches have also transformed. From traditional software engineering that mainly dealt with client-enabling engineering services emerged the novel approach of Product Engineering. The question is how product engineering differs from software engineering in its approach and promise and how it leads to better products when weaved together with design thinking.  

Software engineering focuses on the technical implementation of software solutions. In contrast, product engineering is concerned with the entire product lifecycle. It is the process of innovating, designing, developing, testing, and deploying a software product. Product engineering oversees the product’s journey from the innovation phases, starting from the idea being conceived to the deployment and user acceptance testing phase.  

It must be underlined that product engineering adopts a more holistic approach, considering the software as a component of a larger product. Software engineering and product engineering both require strong technical skills. But product engineering also requires a broader understanding of market dynamics, user behavior, business objectives, and technical expertise.   

Product Engineering in Healthcare tech   

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, with the rise of consumer-facing health-tech products and the increasing proliferation of the internet, product engineering emerged as a distinct concept in healthcare tech. This coincided with the increasing need for innovation and agility in healthcare software engineering. More than traditional software development methods were needed to keep up with the pace of innovation. As it eventually emerged, product engineering methodologies were better suited to the dynamic and complex nature of healthtech products. Before these new requirements, healthcare IT mainly focused on developing large, mainframe-based systems for administrative tasks. The emphasis on user experience and design at this time was minimal.    

Cut to the present: Product engineering is an essential discipline in health tech and plays a pivotal role in developing innovative products that improve patients’ lives worldwide.   

Demystifying the ‘Product Mindset’   

Central to the success of every Product Engineering initiative is the development of the ‘Product Mindset.’ The product mindset is adopting an integrated approach that transcends the boundaries of individual projects and brings the focus back to long-term solutions. These solutions are fit for the market, satisfy the requirements and needs of end-users, are sustainable in themselves, and open the door to further products/services. In short, the power of the product mindset lies in the fact that it takes a holistic, long-term view of things.   

Benefits of Adopting a Product Mindset in Healthcare IT   

  • Facilitating Patient-Centric Care   
  • Promoting Interoperability and Data Exchange   
  • Agile Development and the Philosophy of Continuous Improvement   
  • Enabling Regulatory Compliance and Data Privacy   

The product mindset in healthcare IT brings about pivotal changes across various aspects. It strongly emphasizes patient-centricity, empowering healthcare providers to prioritize patient needs, enhance engagement, and improve outcomes through solutions like patient portals and telemedicine platforms. It also drives the development of interoperable products that enable seamless data exchange among systems, streamlining care coordination and reducing errors. Agile methodologies, a core element of this mindset, foster continuous improvement and flexibility in adapting to evolving priorities and compliance shifts within the dynamic healthcare landscape.   

Further, the product mindset ensures regulatory compliance and data privacy by integrating compliance considerations from the outset, staying updated with changing regulations, conducting risk assessments, and maintaining comprehensive documentation. This approach ingrains ‘privacy by design,’ embedding security features and privacy measures into the product’s architecture. Cross-functional collaboration becomes standard practice, where compliance experts collaborate closely with developers, product managers, and designers to integrate regulatory requirements into the product’s design and development process.   

Leveraging Design Thinking   

If the product mindset puts the user at the center of all considerations and promotes continuous improvement, then design thinking helps build better solutions that are easier to use and employ creativity to solve complex problems. Design thinking achieves this by focusing on human-centered design. The razor-sharp focus is on the needs of the user. It is used as the true north when making critical decisions that inform how the software will shape up before it is launched on the market. By empathizing with users and understanding their problems, teams can build software that is easy to use, well-loved, and more successful in the market. Design Thinking takes the approach to software development through a 5-stage process that requires the makers to empathize – define – ideate – prototype – and test the product before release.  

Product Mindset + Design Thinking = Symphony in Action  

When Design Thinking weaves in with the Product Mindset and, consequently, the line of action, it harmonizes perfectly to deliver tangible gains. For instance, product mindset ensures that the overall value proposition aligns with user needs, and design thinking promises greater understanding and refinement of solutions through empathy and rapid prototyping. Further, both approaches are iterative, enhancing flexibility and adaptability – crucial in healthcare settings that operate to multiple regulations, tech advancements, and changing user expectations.   

These two approaches guide and inform best practices through all stages of the Software Development Lifecycle: Design – Development – Testing – Implementation – Maintenance. These two approaches make for a holistic problem-solving framework that complements each other. The product mindset guides the overall vision and strategy, and design thinking provides tools and methods to tackle user-centric challenges. This complimentary nature of the approach paves the way for novel innovations that are tested for the market and long-term sustainability and on top of the technology curve, in addition to being user-friendly.  

Conclusion  

When studying the evolution of software development approaches adopted in healthcare, one characteristic that catches the eye is its dynamism. Over the decades, multiple approaches have been increasingly tried and given a go. Nothing is cast in stone. With one eye on the prevailing technological landscape and another on the user’s needs, software development in this field has managed to stay nimble and agile to shifting requirements.   

The need for innovation and agility has brought forth new paradigms, such as the product mindset and design thinking. These two are essential pillars for the product engineering discipline and have served well in building healthcare software products that work well for millions of patients worldwide and improve their lives.   

The following blog in this series will focus on the third pillar of product engineering – Architecting Best Practices.  

Author

  • HealthAsyst Blogging Community

    The HealthAsyst Blogging Community comprises key thought leaders with decades of experience in the Healthcare IT Services industry. Their expertise ranges from product engineering, implementation, healthcare regulation, managed services to applications of data science and analytics in healthcare.

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