Healthcare Application Development: Comparing Custom-Built Medical Software and Off-the-Shelf Product Solutions

Paul Galbraith

Paul Galbraith

Posted on February 07, 2022

Illustration of a cell phone with considertaions to make when choosing between a custom software product or a pre-built solution: cost, feature set, scalability, functionality, and deployment time.

Today, one of the most essential needs of every healthcare organization is a HIPAA-compliant software solution that helps improve patients’ access to quality care, while simultaneously alleviating the organization’s administrative workload. The right healthcare portal or app can help your organization improve its efficiency (and therefore its profitability) and increase patient satisfaction.

Broadly speaking, software solutions can be divided into two categories:

  1. Custom: Custom software is a bespoke platform developed to meet an organization’s specific needs.
  2. Product: A pre-built, off-the-shelf product is generic and built for more general needs.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of each solution? And why would your healthcare organization want to choose one over the other?

At Medical Web Experts, we build custom healthcare web app and portal solutions and we even have our own out-of-the-box portal. Below we’ll outline the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Feature Set

Rich functionality is pivotal to the success of any software solution. The difference between the features available with a custom healthcare app vs a pre-built product is pretty easy to discern.

Custom-built software can be outfitted with the specific features that your organization both needs and wants in order to create a bespoke product. Custom apps, in particular, can give you an edge among patients because they allow healthcare organizations to offer unique features that help patients manage their health with more autonomy, and therefore can help you earn patient loyalty.

For example, a mid-to-large-sized laboratory organization might need a solution that allows patients to schedule appointments, submit payment for tests, communicate with the lab, and view results. This type of workflow is more conducive to custom software. Laboratories who wish to send custom notifications to patients or to integrate QR code generation and scanning will also want to opt for a custom solution.

Pre-built software products may benefit smaller organizations or clinics that only need their software to perform one or two key features. For example, a laboratory that only wants to share test results with patients may not need a customized system to do so. On the other hand, pre-built software products may come with a bloated feature set– features that you’ll pay for but never use.


A client-branded app allows the healthcare organization to create a unified patient experience across its website, applications, general materials, and in-person/office experience, contributing to patient trust. Custom healthcare apps allow for a project to be branded to an organization (i.e. the healthcare organization’s colors, styles, graphics, etc.).

With pre-built products, the ability to brand an app can be limited, or even impossible. When healthcare organizations use pre-built app products, patients are directed to a third-party, unbranded experience that can seem disjointed and can impact patient trust and loyalty.

Custom Integrations with Third-Party Software

An important consideration for healthcare organizations to make is the ability to integrate any new portal or mobile app with their current software. For example, the types of software that generally need to be integrated into a new app and portal solutions include:

  • LIS (laboratory information system) for laboratories
  • Scheduling systems
  • EMR (electronic medical record) software
  • Billing software

Custom solutions afford greater flexibility than product offerings to integrate with any third-party platform that has interface capabilities (API, HL7, etc.).


Cost is generally something that organizations weigh heavily when choosing a portal or app. For example, some organizations may choose an out-of-the-box product over custom-built software, because a custom app requires a larger initial investment. However, initial cost should not be the deciding factor.

An off-the-shelf product is usually less expensive upfront, compared to a custom one, and generally requires a monthly cost per user. However, while a pre-built software product may seem like a more affordable solution initially, it may end up costing you more over time, due to inefficiencies, the need for feature expansion, scalability for increased usage, and subscription fees associated with SaaS platforms.

For healthcare organizations that choose a custom-built software solution, a discovery phase or ideation phase can greatly benefit the healthcare application development process. During a discovery phase, healthcare software developers work closely with decision-makers within your organization to understand your exact needs, as well as the best way to integrate the new app with your existing workflows, saving your organization time and money.


When choosing between a custom medical software solution or an off-the-shelf product, it’s important to have your organization’s strategic growth goals in mind. Will your app need to support increased usage (in terms of the number of users or visits and the amount of data served up by the app) in the next few years? What does the application look like 1, 3, 5 years down the line? Planning for the scalability of your medical app determines the lifespan of the product, as well as saves you time and money down the road.

Custom development can lay the foundation for a scalable product, allowing your health app to easily accommodate growth in the user base and the amount of data generated.

Off-the-shelf systems aren’t as amenable, and sometimes are impossible, to later adaptations or scalability. Some products do not support usage beyond a certain threshold, and healthcare organizations could be left out to dry once they exceed this limit. If a product does support increased usage, it’s important to have a firm understanding of the price differences between monthly plans for different usage allowances–beware of exorbitant cost jumps between monthly plans.

Time to Deployment

Most organizations are anxious to implement a medical software solution as quickly as possible, but time to deployment should be evaluated with other considerations to avoid pitfalls and possible additional costs in the future.

Since a custom solution is essentially a “build-from-scratch” approach, the time it takes to implement the final product could take several months depending on the size and complexity of the solution needed. For complex medical software projects, opting for a discovery phase can save organizations a significant amount of time and money in the healthcare application development process. Discovery allows organizations to plan a phased approach that accelerates time-to-market. This phased approach generally includes developing an MVP (minimal viable product) version first that meets immediate needs, within a timeframe that works for them, followed by continued agile development and rollout of other phases.

A pre-built solution that can be purchased “off-the-shelf,” can generally be implemented in as little as one to two weeks. However, short-term gain can sometimes lead to long-term pain if the long-term vision for the app requires custom workflows that are not included in the product framework.

Are You Ready to Take the Next Step?

Both pre-built and custom-built apps can benefit a healthcare organization, depending on your specific needs. The decision between a custom medical app and an off-the-shelf solution is one that can have overarching consequences for your organization. It’s imperative that this decision be made with your long-term vision in mind.

Whether you’re looking for an off-the-shelf system or a custom one, Medical Web Experts can help you not only implement but maintain your medical software solution. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help your organization with a solution that can increase patient satisfaction and improve patient health outcomes while increasing profitability and efficiency for your practice.

Paul Galbraith

Paul Galbraith

Paul is the Manager of Business Development and Senior Account Manager at Medical Web Experts. With over 6 years of experience as a results-driven business developer, Paul manages inbound and outbound sales cycles with a proven track record for exceeding targets. Paul has managed over 100 projects, many for Medical Web Experts’ most enterprise-level clients.

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