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Key skills to look out for when hiring engineers in the healthcare industry

Over the last ten years or so, the healthcare industry has been transformed by a surge of digital innovation. From virtual appointments to mobile-enabled medical devices, healthcare industry companies are using data science, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to create personalized, data-driven care. 

As a result, demand for engineers to look after all of these new innovations (and develop the next generation) has skyrocketed. But how do you know exactly what kind of person you need for your healthcare organization?

What’s unique about the healthcare industry? 

Despite the upsurge in healthcare innovation, the industry as a whole remains fairly traditional and is unused to putting software development and engineering high on the priority list. 

As a complex industry, deep shifts in how things are done only happen slowly. There are a few challenges that engineers in the space will encounter, in particular: 

  1. Highly Siloed

Healthcare organizations are typically highly siloed at many levels. There is a strong separation between departments (e.g. neurology and oncology), between domains (e.g. health practitioners, IT, and the business administration), and between branches (e.g. hospitals not sharing patient data). 

This makes it much harder to align goals and incentives across an organization with different siloes sometimes working at cross-purposes to one another. 

  1. Lack of Investment

Despite the influx of recent innovation, there has traditionally been a lack of investment in a strong engineering foundation: technology, infrastructure, processes, skills, software development lifecycle, and so on. 

Trying to innovate on a shaky foundation may work for a time, but eventually, serious issues will arise. 

  1. Sensitive Personal and Medical Data 

Healthcare organizations preside over vast volumes of highly sensitive data of all kinds. Ensuring that these are kept safe and secure, while still being made available for use around the organization is a tricky balancing act.

  1. Regulations and Compliance 

In this industry, there are many regulations, mandates, compliance guidelines, HIPAA considerations, and so on. The engineering challenge is to find a way to comply with these various standards, without having to slow down or compromise on quality. 

Technical Skills

So what skills does our dream healthtech engineer need? Let’s dive into some core technical requirements. 

Automation 

Automation involves using code to turn repeatable processes and manual interventions into programmable software functions and systems. 

Although setting up proper automation is an upfront time investment, it is massively efficient and steadily eliminates huge swathes of time-consuming manual work. 

This is a foundational skill in the healthcare industry, which needs automation to bring much-needed efficiency and to free up engineers from constant fire-fighting to allow them to work instead on value-add innovation. 

This skill is also a critical element of building an effective cloud platform, ensuring compliance, and executing advanced data science projects. It’s a little skill that goes a long way! 

Your engineer should be familiar with infrastructure-as-code, scripting languages such as JavaScript and Python, automation testing tools like Selenium and Cucumber, and configuration management tooling such as Puppet or Vagrant.

Public Cloud (AWS, Azure, GCP)

The public cloud is an on-demand, scalable, distributed computing service that represents a critical shift in how technology is utilized. 

By putting the responsibility for a lot of the non-value-add “heavy lifting” (installing tools, patching servers, etc.) onto the cloud provider the cloud gives engineers the technical foundation they need on-demand to experiment and innovate on concrete business problems at speed and scale.

A good candidate will have experience working with your cloud provider of choice, as well as cloud-native tooling, cloud orchestration, cloud automation at scale, infrastructure-as-code,  and cloud security.

Agile and DevOps 

Agile is an iterative approach to project management that helps teams deliver value faster in the context of changing needs and requirements. The emphasis is on delivering small chunks of manageable change so teams can remain flexible (or “agile”) rather than on ‘big bang’ releases.

DevOps takes the Agile philosophy and applies it to the world of software development and commonly includes ideas such as cross-functional teams and end-to-end accountability to break down siloes and streamline development.  

Engineers with a strong grasp of Agile and DevOps will be helpful in restructuring your engineering culture from the ground up to include more collaboration, communication, and accountability to provide a consistent delivery flow.

Infosec, Compliance, and Regulations 

As noted above, the healthcare industry is home to a vast array of data privacy laws, compliance guidelines, and industry regulations. 

The core challenge is incorporating the various checks and balances into the software development lifecycle that are needed to satisfy these requirements, but without creating big delays or bottlenecks. 

The ideal way of doing this is with a federated IT structure, with centrally-defined data and compliance standards being implemented locally by cross-functional teams who are fully accountable, but also fully empowered. 

Your prospective candidate should be familiar with information and data security, on the one hand, and collaborative ways of working such as DevSecOps, on the other. Ideally, they will have some experience ‘shifting left’ security and compliance concerns: incorporating these requirements early on in the development lifecycle so they don’t become a last-minute burden that creates delays. 

Data Science, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning 

The core of healthtech innovation is centered on data

Using it to diagnose quicker, to spot patterns in populations, to provide more personalized treatment, to track patients’ health more closely…the list is endless. 

But it’s among the most complex and challenging areas of engineering. The trick is to find engineers who know how to take raw data and turn it into valuable insights.

This is why finding an engineer with advanced data skills will be a massive boon for any healthcare organization. These skills are rare, but if you can find an engineer who is familiar with modern data engineering approaches such as data mesh, MLOps as well as advanced data analysis techniques such as machine learning models, knowledge graphs, and real-time analytics they will be worth their weight in gold!

Business Skills 

Mastering technical skills is only half the battle for the modern engineer. In a complex, multi-stakeholder environment like the healthcare industry, soft business skills are just as crucial. 

Collaboration and Communication

Given the siloed nature of many healthcare organizations, an engineer who is aware of the criticality of working in tandem with business and healthcare professionals is key.

This ensures, on the one hand, that engineering work is done in the context of a clear business outcome and, on the other, that IT considerations can inform business strategy. 

Your candidate should be aware of how their work fits into the business objectives and be able to collaborate and communicate effectively with other members of her team as well as the wider business.

Flexibility and Ability to Pivot

Innovation is an iterative process. It’s not a big bang affair, but rather a series of small experiments that slowly build momentum by a continuous process of trial-and-error.

That naturally entails a high degree of flexibility on the part of the innovator. Your candidate should be comfortable with being able to “fail fast” and quickly pivot their projects based on user feedback and the shifting requirements of the business.  

Ability to Learn Quickly 

Engineering does not exist in a vacuum. In a healthcare setting, improving efficiencies in one area of the organization (a particular hospital department, for example), may then impact another department. 

Your candidate should be willing and able to gain a basic clinical understanding of how your organization achieves its health outcomes so that they will be able to put their work in the proper context.  

Without grasping the operational and clinical implications of their work (or at least collaborating with someone who does so), they may unintentionally create problems, delays, and bottlenecks elsewhere. 

Ready to grow your engineering team in the healthcare sector? 

A top-notch engineering candidate for the healthcare industry will be able to balance the technical skills above with the modern requirements for business and clinical knowledge.

Andela helps companies build remote engineering teams by linking them up with the world’s top talent. Our database includes over 100,000 top engineers, including experts in DevOps, data engineering, machine learning, and more. 

If you’re looking for your dream engineer, then check out our database of vetted, global talent that can seamlessly integrate with your existing team!

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