While reporting tools can have a significant effect in data-driven decision making in many fields, healthcare is one in which they can be leveraged to save lives. In the past few years, healthcare organizations have targeted data reporting and analysis tools aggressively as they drive comprehensive enhancement of IT-based medical treatment. With applications in research, facility and personnel management, treatment strategies and patient care, reporting tools can provide a means to synthesize today's most powerful tools with actionable healthcare methods.

However, applications designed for use in this sector must be carefully developed for a group of end users who probably have little experience with industry-specific software. For this reason, healthcare software programming has several challenges relatively unique to apps used in the field.

Data-centric tools are starting to break through as more healthcare professionals demonstrate their advantages. The use of electronic health records, perhaps the most visible form of IT tools used by medical professionals, continues to rise, with adoption among physicians increasing 21 percent in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overall, 78 percent of office-based physicians in the U.S. work with EHRs in some form, up from just 18 percent in 2001. These tools are used to increase the quality and accuracy of patient records, share data between facilities, send prescriptions to pharmacies electronically, order lab tests and compile immunization registries, among other applications.

The need for more user-centric reporting tools
Because healthcare professionals depend on these reporting tools to compile and share information accurately and efficiently, there may be more considerations that go into an optimal development and deployment. Medical professionals are generally very busy people, but unlike an enterprise end user who may be more informed about the potential big data and analytics offer for business development, a doctor may have little to no experience with this field of thinking. This can make physicians less receptive to data-based software, especially if it seems like it has a high learning curve or appears to offer insights and analysis of little tangible value out of the gate. Rightly or wrongly, this attitude can stop deployment of reporting tools in its tracks.

So how do organizations counter a group of decidedly ad hoc end users perhaps reticent to adopt a new mode of analysis? One of the best ways could be in-house development, a novel but powerful strategy. Most healthcare practitioners end up outsourcing their software development, if only because they may not have much in the way of a crack programming team on their payroll. However, an in-house strategy could be more beneficial, wrote Naomi Fried, PhD, the first chief innovation officer at Boston Children's Hospital.

"The unique and increasingly complex IT environment within health care institutions is one of the biggest barriers to the development of novel clinical software solutions," she wrote. "To start with, health care delivery IT environments boast complicated safeguards to keep medical information secure. In addition, as these environments grow in scope and complexity, keeping pace with advances in clinical technology, it becomes harder to incorporate new software."

Ultimately, the true user-centric environment is probably best fostered by a team within the organization that can specifically target the job- and sector-related pain points that a third-party developer may not be aware of. Regulatory and compliance concerns can exacerbate a system already just as difficult as any enterprise arrangement, if not more so. An in-house team can develop spreadsheets and other reporting tools customized specifically to the needs of healthcare professionals, making it easy to capture data, share information and increase communication on the whole.