Monthly Archive for May, 2010

The Software Quality Balancing Act

Andrew Dallas’s article Caution: V&V May Be Hazardous to Software Quality touches on a number of good points regarding software quality best practices.

Medical device software development V&V (also see here) and the documentation that goes with it have substantial costs. Any strategy that can reduce this overhead and still meet the necessary quality standards should be seriously considered.

The use of “incremental” software development approaches really refers to Agile methodologies.  I’ve talked about the use of Agile for medical device software development several times:

Most of the discussion revolves around the risks associated with this approach. The benefits of any process change have to be weighed against the possible risks that might be introduced.

Besides the importance of understanding what V&V documentation the FDA actually wants to see, Andrew makes a great point about producing quality software versus the V&V process (my highlight):

V&V is not software testing. Verification testing ensures specified requirements have been fulfilled. Validation testing ensures that particular requirements for a specific intended use can be consistently fulfilled.

Following the required FDA V&V processes alone is not sufficient to ensure software quality. You also have to adhere to software development best practices at all levels. For example, in addition to non-functional requirements there are many software quality factors that require careful design considerations and testing that you may decide are outside the scope of FDA reporting.  Deciding what to report and what to leave out is the balancing act.

Interoperability is a Big Word!

There was a statement in one of the HIStalk Readers Write 5/10/10 articles in that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind. In Digging for Gold in your HIT Applications, Ron Olsen writes:

One of the most over-used buzz words in healthcare IT is “interoperability,” a is really a big word that self-important people use to describe data transfer.

OMG, I’ve been using that word for a long time…

All joking aside, for the most part Mr Olsen’s advise to get more out of existing IT tools is a reasonable suggestion. Unfortunately, interoperability means a lot more than just “data transfer” (see Healthcare IT Interoperability Defined), and is where the advise breaks down.

Scripting tools can manipulate those files, turning them into almost any format imaginable. With the correct format, data can be transferred to disparate systems, individually or concurrently, via a data stream.

The fundamental flaw in this statement is the oversimplification (sorry, another big word) of the problem. Simple scripts are good for simple tasks. Communicating medical data reliably and securely between disparate systems is not a simple task.

I would also encourage all HIT professionals to fully understand the tools at their disposal in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their organizations.  There may be a few nuggets, I’m not so sure that there will be a whole lot of gold to be found when it comes to  interoperability.

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