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5 reasons agile makes better health technology

Clinicians are busy. Patients are pulled in every direction. For health technology to be helpful at all, it must be quick and easy to use. And that’s where Agile comes in.

The Agile method is best known for creating software incrementally in short development cycles called ‘sprints.’ Each sprint delivers and tests a partial but ready-for-market piece of the larger vision. Project teams iteratively roll changes forward, delivering the complete solution in a set number of sprints.

But Agile also enables ongoing, close collaboration among project stakeholders. Combined with the iterative approach, this makes it perfect for creating technology solutions that are readily adopted by end-users in the dynamic, often change-averse healthcare environment.

Multidisciplinary teams of patients, clinicians, clients, vendors and technologists who co-create and test solutions as they are developed… How could the result not be eminently usable? Haley Moore, a TELUS Health project manager, worked with a team at BC Emergency Health Services to put Agile into action on a recent project for first responders.

“TELUS Health follows an adapted Agile methodology to make it work well for our healthcare clients” says Moore. “Agile ensures patient and clinician input is included, while other project work streams follow a more traditional waterfall methodology.”

So how does TELUS Health’s adapted Agile method fuel the success of health technology? In at least five ways.

1. End-user engagement

“Agile enables ongoing patient and clinician engagement,” says Moore, “and that’s a key reason it supports success in health care technology projects. We involve an end-user representative from the outset to ensure user requirements are met as the solution evolves.”

Moore spent hundreds of hours shadowing, supporting and collecting feedback from first responders in the field as they started to use the new system, winning a TELUS Customers First Champion award for her commitment.

And who ultimately drives the key decisions on the solution’s functionality? “The front-line caregivers who will use the software every hour of every shift are the ones empowered, because they have a seat at the Agile planning table.”

2. Collaboration

Through daily stand-ups, sprint planning meetings, demos and retrospectives, Agile regularly brings together end-users, vendors, developers and software developers, fostering a “one team, one goal” attitude while breaking down functional and geographical silos.

Says Moore: “If an end-user request isn’t possible, the developer explains why. We come up with a work-around as a team, and everyone leaves on the same page. But more often than not, users’ needs are met. And those who are part of the process will champion the solution.”

3. Prioritizing and testing

TELUS Health’s adapted Agile methodology schedules high priority requirements for early sprints. By delivering key requirements early, the team still has cycles left to make any needed changes, keeping project risk under control.

“We all know that bugs are significantly more expensive to fix at the end of a project than during development,” says Moore. “So instead of leaving all the testing until the end, Agile tests each build so we can address any issues in the next sprint.”

4. Change management

Agile is not the Wild West: projects must meet an end goal by a set date. But it does emphasize flexibility over rigid specifications. And flexibility is well-suited to health care settings, where needs and priorities are constantly shifting.

Moore: “Sometimes clients or end-users don’t know what they want until they see it. Or what we thought was a good idea in sprint planning may not work when we see it in the demo. The great thing about Agile is that we can fix it in the next sprint, nimbly adjusting to deliver the right functionality.”

To avoid losing time, decisions must be made in the sprint planning meeting. “With Agile, everyone in the room must be a decision maker,” says Moore.

5. Adoption

Agile helps create enthusiastic users – and win over skeptical ones. How?

“When users see their input and changes reflected in the software on a regular basis, that brings them on board,” says Moore. “It helps pull in people who are hesitant about technology, because they see that their needs are being heard.” In this way, TELUS Health uses Agile as an engagement tool.

“On this project, by the time we got to training, we had already engaged hundreds of end-users, who had in turn shared their knowledge and enthusiasm with their colleagues.”

News travels fast. Especially when it’s good news—about usable solutions, perfectly matched to needs and preferences, and that will ultimately improve health.

Learn how patient engagement solutions from TELUS Health improve health outcomes, increase patient and provider satisfaction, and lower care costs. |