Healthcare IT is an industry capable of providing software developers with long-term stability, room for growth, access to innovative technology, and the challenge of helping processes evolve—provided they’re willing to take on some extremely complex projects.
Any software developer involved in healthcare IT needs to be acutely aware of how data moves through various databases and systems, as well as the regulations that control the use of said data.
Epic, Cerner and Allscripts are the “big three” of electronic healthcare records (EHR) systems; although you may want to familiarize yourself with them, those platforms tend to be locked down to outsiders, said Gina Tressler James, CEO and Founder of P&P Healthcare Consulting. For that reason alone, the ability to work with those platforms isn’t necessarily what companies look for in a candidate.
“If we’re working with one of the specialty software programs, we can always send you to school to learn how to write the rules and macros,” she said. “What we really want to know is how easily you learn a new program and what kind of knowledge you already have.” If you have a deep understanding of SQL and UNIX, James noted, your experience could prove valuable to an employer looking for someone who can write reports in Cerner CCL.
Any developer with a deep knowledge of the interfaces governing every level of EHR is worth his or her weight in gold. While HTML is useful, the most prized skill for these developers is knowledge of Health Level 7 (HL7), a comprehensive framework and its related standards for the exchange, integration, sharing, and retrieval of electronic health information. Not enough developers are familiar with HL7, which is critical to ensuring the safety and accuracy of patient information as it moves throughout a particular system.
Another area of the interface closely related to HL7 is the imaging program DICON. Working with its apps is somewhat akin to manipulating JPEG files. The images and tools require developers to manipulate, transmit, and store them within the EHR and associated imaging systems.
“Security is number one when dealing with healthcare development, and number two is audit-tracking,” said Matt Schlein, Human Resource Manager for Ayoka Systems, a custom software development services company. “We look for developers who are well-versed in multiple languages, which allows for the kind of imaginative thinking necessary to make certain we create secure and intuitive programs.”
He also suggested that developers who want to work in the industry familiarize themselves with HIPAA Privacy Rules. Everything programmed in a healthcare context must be in compliance with these government guidelines. “Understanding HIPAA,” Schlein stressed, “is the first step in knowing just how crucial security and audit-tracking measures are in this industry.”
While Mohan Balachandran, president and co-founder of Catalyze, a company that provides HIPAA-compliant cloud computing for healthcare, agrees that there’s no specialized programming skill needed to begin working in healthcare, he believes developers must make security their highest priority.
“This is what you need to know how to do,” Balachandran said. “Encrypt data everywhere (at rest and in transit), operate on a least-access principle (for yourself and in your code, e.g., access or provide access to data only if it is essential), and finally, log everything.”