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How To Find a Digital Health Software Engineer


Doctors have a lot of good ideas. Unfortunately, most don’t know what to do with them nor do they know where to go to find help.

Doctors have a lot of good ideas. Unfortunately, most don’t know what to do with them nor do they know where to go to find help. The problem is further complicated by the fact that, when it comes to defining software and hardware specifications and end user requirements, doctors are from Venus and software engineers are from Mars.

Finding the right IT development partner for a price you can afford or under terms and conditions that you propose can be a random act, like responding to cold solicitations on social media, or more purposeful and planned.

Like any partnership, designing, developing, deploying, and assessing a digital health product or service is a two-way street, and, as you would expect, there is the good, the bad, and the ugly. We have all had experience by this time with one or the other.

Here are some tips to make finding a development partner easier from the perspective of a physician entrepreneur with little experience:

  1. Be sure to do your homework before starting your search. You should have some ideas about what you want, even if it means sketching something on the back of a napkin to start and what you expect the hardware or software to do and how.
  2. Know the difference between validation and verification and other fundamentals of the digital health innovation roadmap.
  3. Creating a prototype is but one step. Another is creating a business model canvas and validating the underlying assumptions and hypotheses.
  4. Prototype and stimulate to verify and validate.
  5. Define the scope of work and terms and conditions you expect. What do you want an engineer to do by when? Create a mobile app? Design a website? Create an automated marketing solution? What about IP questions like work for hire concerns or ownership issues?
  6. Ask for referrals from knowledgeable, experienced people in your network. Much like finding any other person offering professional services, like a doctor, lawyer, or accountant, word of mouth and person-to-person referrals are a good start.
  7. Expand your networks and attend meetings and networking events of digital health entrepreneurs, engineers, end users and investors to meet potential partners. Contact other customers for their feedback and experience working with a particular vendor.
  8. Here are some other questions to ask when looking for a technology development partner.

Contact your local trade association and scan the membership list, for example, the Colorado Technology Association. Outsourcing design and development to engineers in other parts of the world, like Eastern Europe, India, or other parts of Asia, while potentially less costly, has its own set of issues. Here's the good news. Here's the bad news.

Have budget and financial development plan. Do you expect a partner to do this for equity?

Finding the right technology partner or contract worker can make or break your project. Be sure you have a due diligence plan; have clearly defined expectations and a realistic budget. Physician digital health entrepreneurship requires finding the right people to help. Getting it wrong will make you wish you were seeing patients full time again.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice