DevOps in healthcare: a complete guide
DevOps — a set of practices that automate the processes between software development and IT teams — stands as a pivotal force for rebooting healthcare into the modern age.
The urgency for this shift is clear: Many hospitals and insurance firms still can’t wave goodbye to age-old software and now-vintage Windows 8.1. This reluctance to embrace modern technology not only inflates costs but also compromises the quality of patient care and leads to interoperability and cybersecurity issues.
Yet, those weaknesses signal opportunity for newcomers. "A bunch of fresh digital health startups are hitting the healthcare scene with next-gen software solutions, pushing the old-timers to step up their game and embrace modern technologies," says Dave Hecker, our West Coast CTO.
Our partnership with healthcare leaders like Thirty Madison and Dialogue has highlighted the particular significance of DevOps and cloud computing in this field. Armed with over twenty years of expertise in DevOps, we have a profound understanding of its strategic implementation in healthcare. Our team sees DevOps in healthcare as more than just a progressive philosophy, but a fundamental element in achieving improved patient outcomes with greater operational efficiency and less costs.
The basics of DevOps in healthcare
In the healthcare domain, DevOps fuses specialized software development (Dev) and IT operations (Ops) methodologies to speed up the lifecycle of medical applications. By harnessing a continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipeline, this approach enables iterative (read: more efficient) product refinements that address the nitty-gritty of clinical workflows, EHR interoperability, and health information exchange (HIE) protocols.
Additionally, DevOps practices support automated testing paradigms, including test-driven development (TDD) and behavior-driven development (BDD). These are crucial for validating the accuracy and reliability of complex algorithms used in diagnostic software, patient management systems, and telehealth solutions.
Benefits of DevOps in healthcare
A report by Redgate revealed that 73 percent of professionals in the healthcare sector globally are already capitalizing on DevOps. That’s the good news.
The not-so-good news? The other 27 percent are missing out on the many advantages of DevOps.
Better collaboration and communication
Equipped with in-depth knowledge of the healthcare system, medical professionals are essential contributors to healthcare software development. The DevOps approach fosters collaboration among developers, IT staff, and healthcare providers, which paves the way for more relevant, user-centric products for both patients and the industry as a whole.
DevOps leans into, well, Lean methodologies that focus on reducing waste — whether it’s code, resources, or time — resulting in a more cost-efficient process. On top of that, faster issue identification and feature deployment significantly cut downtime (as you know, outages are costly in terms of both revenue and brand reputation).
Healthcare organizations can also curb expenses by optimizing cloud services like AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, SAP, and Salesforce. This is especially relevant if the internal IT team doesn’t possess the expertise to properly configure the cloud settings, which may lead to unnecessary expenditures.
Case in point: A leading name in the weight management field enlisted our expertise to fine-tune their premium AWS account. Armed with specialized know-how and a comprehensive understanding of AWS perks and discounts, our DevOps team audited the client's existing setup and offered strategic advice for cloud optimization, which brought a remarkable 40 percent decrease in expenses.
Increased service/product quality
Implementing DevOps means benefiting from continuous feedback that facilitates rapid issue detection and resolution — a critical aspect in healthcare, where patient well-being can actually be affected by software quality.
Furthermore, infrastructure as code (IaC) ensures a seamless and consistent rollout across development, testing, and production, meaning the product behaves as expected at all stages.
Backed by key DevOps practices like containerization and orchestration, applications are geared to scale based on demand without compromising performance. For healthcare apps, this translates to effectively handling large patient datasets or high user loads, especially during pandemics and widespread health emergencies.
Embracing DevOps is crucial for a seamless, secure, and effective migration of a healthcare organization's digital assets — services, databases, IT resources, and applications — from on-premises or co-located setups to the cloud.
Enhanced security and compliance
Any talk about healthcare tech should also mention the rulebook: HIPAA in the United States and GDPR and NHS protocols across the pond. DevOps ticks these boxes, too. It employs IaC, plus container technologies like Docker and orchestration tools like Kubernetes, to give healthcare organizations a leg up on data security and audit compliance.
Take, for instance, our collaboration with Dialogue, a Canadian telemedicine startup that sought our expertise during their journey towards SOC 2 certification. Our DevOps engineers refined their DevOps strategy and implemented essential third-party solutions.
"We combined automated testing, an optimized Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service environment, and a solid IaC strategy underpinned by Terraform and Terragrunt to ensure thorough, centralized, and safe workload management,” says Nikita Dolya, a key DevOps engineer on the project.
Given the results DevOps brings, it's no wonder that an increasing number of healthcare organizations are switching to DevSecOps, an extension of the DevOps methodology that prioritizes security at every phase of software development and deployment.
“Healthcare organizations deal with an extensive volume of sensitive patient data and financial information, so it’s crucial to configure the environment in line with top-tier security guidelines and bolster server defenses,” notes Alexey Golubev, DevOps team manager at Vention.
A nugget of wisdom from Alexey: Rely on data copies to ensure personal data remains out of third-party reach.
Case study: How to implement DevOps for a healthcare company
If you're considering the DevOps route for your healthcare company, the experience of your peers can be a goldmine of insights. With our extensive experience in implementing DevOps for a diverse range of clients, we'll shed light on the practical application of DevOps in healthcare.
1. Creation of a DevOps strategy
The first step in DevOps integration is to unite teams within a collaborative space around a common mission. This mission can be revolved around various cloud platforms hosted whether on Google Cloud or AWS.
Our engineers always thoroughly assess the operational and developmental processes of our clients, while fine-tuning them in line with DevOps in healthcare best practices and ensuring all stakeholders follow the same trajectory.
Containerization is essential for decoupling individual software modules from the main repository, as this fosters quick, adaptable, and reliable system modifications. This strategic setup usually minimizes all potential lags and ensures updates are rolled out on schedule.
3. Infrastructure provisioning
This essential phase includes the establishment, configuration, and governance of infrastructure components like servers, networks, databases, and storage through scripting and automation techniques.
4. Integration of infrastructure automation and CI/CD tools
Once the infrastructure is set up, effective management of the containerized app takes center stage.
For example, the seamless blending of Google-managed services with automation tools like GitHub Actions and Cypress results in a more streamlined approach to configuration management and software deployment.
5. Test automation and QA/Dev alignment
As previously mentioned, test automation is one of the key advantages of DevOps in healthcare. Development and testing activities usually go hand in hand to ward off any bugs that might show up post-release.
During the active development phase, we always run automated tests once or twice daily. If any bug pops up, our team addresses them head-on to ensure the software is rock-solid before we release the next build.
6. Continuous deployment
Upon successful test completion, we transition the code into the production environment. Thanks to our optimized DevOps process, our clients benefit from prompt and consistent deployments, enabling effective product updates.
7. Round-the-clock monitoring
During the DevOps rollout, we create a tight feedback loop between the client’s development and operations teams. If anything didn’t go according to plan in the build, the system generates and shares real-time incident notifications among stakeholders; this setup keeps our client informed about any alarms or notifications, allowing for rapid remediation.
Tips for overcoming challenges in DevOps implementation
As a company offering DevOps services, we've had a front-row seat to the challenges that healthcare companies often bump into on the road to the cloud. Here’s a list of detours to take if your aim is a smooth, stress-free rollout of essential features and updates.
1. Make your DevOps environment sustainable
In DevOps, the torch of code ownership is relayed among several teams, which often clock extra hours and effort due to multiple environment setups and code modifications.
Our team’s rule of thumb? Craft infrastructural blueprints as a central reference point for all stakeholders and ensure all environments mirror each other. This framework establishes a unified coding and testing platform that simplifies access, promotes ongoing development, and enhances efficiency.
2. Commit to ongoing skills development
The ability of a software team to navigate the DevOps transformation is largely tied to their ongoing professional growth. In line with the DevOps 'continuous everything' ethos, we also channel our investments into the latest tools and training to nurture robust DevOps expertise and culture within our company.
3. Leverage AI and data science tools
In the current healthtech landscape, the primary emphasis lies in integrating data science and AI/ML tools for improved data processing and, hence, enhanced patient results.
“If your company is focused on, say, oncology and experimental therapy, and you need to investigate a large amount of patient data,” says Alexey Golubev. “It’s a good idea to employ data science tools like BigQuery and DataFusion for streamlined aggregation and summarization based on specific criteria, which allows for more targeted treatment plans.”
An important aside, though: It’s imperative for DevOps engineers to rigorously evaluate the performance and security protocols of any third-party tool since they can significantly impact the functionality and the integrity of your healthcare solution.
4. Be smart about allocating your resources
When dealing with virtual machines (VMs), many gravitate towards the most powerful options expecting superior performance, yet they might not fully capitalize on all the resources those VMs offer. Therefore, take the time to fine-tune your environment configuration to ensure you get the most bang for your buck and keep things running smoothly.
5. Hire a dedicated DevOps team
Tapping a dedicated DevOps team can significantly lighten the load for a healthcare company's internal resources, meaning it gives the in-house team the bandwidth to focus more on patient-centric objectives and less on tech roadblocks.
What’s more, over time, healthcare firms may find themselves knee-deep in technical debt from maintaining legacy systems or hasty development cycles. But guess what: Dedicated DevOps engineers can swing into action within days to perform a smooth system modernization without disturbing the current service flow.
Additionally, DevOps consulting and development companies (like ours!) offer a robust range of tooling and platform expertise.
The payoff for you? You’ll get to implement the most fitting and cost-effective solutions possible — a vital aspect for maneuvering through the intricate, ever-changing maze of healthcare technology.