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How to Crush the Build vs. Buy Debate for Digital Health Programs

By Cheryl Morrison Deutsch, President & CEO, Zillion —

It’s no secret that healthcare is rapidly adopting virtual delivery models. But over the past year as companies rushed to launch digital health programs, many found themselves at the crossroads of the age-old build vs. buy debate.

The challenge with building is that many health and wellness businesses are not inherently tech companies, unlikely to have a bench of skilled developers waiting to spin-up a branded solution.

Without the proper in-house resources, these companies may be tempted to buy a ready-made technology platform “off the shelf.” But by choosing the buy route, they may lose out on key features that differentiate their service or that keep members engaged. Plus, the functionality of off-the-shelf solutions are at the mercy of their vendors, barring health businesses from evolving their technology alongside the programs they offer.

Rather than choosing a winner in the build vs. buy argument, companies offering health and wellness programs can find their path forward by looking somewhere in the middle. Software-as-a-service (SaaS) capabilities can empower companies to build their program, their way, quickly and without in-house tech expertise or resources. Here’s how the right SaaS partner can easily bring your program to life:

1. Cost Savings

Developing a new technology platform for digital health services in-house can get pricey, quick. Businesses either need to spend on new talent, or re-allocate existing human resources, which takes them away from other important projects that bring equal or more value to members.

There’s also the IT infrastructure required to run a platform at scale. By building, companies could be required to purchase hardware and invest in ongoing operations and maintenance.

On the other hand, licensing a cloud-based SaaS platform lowers the total cost of ownership by eliminating costs related to installing and maintaining infrastructure, while creating more predictable monthly operating expenses. The scalability of SaaS also allows businesses to effectively handle spikes in demand.

2. Speed to market, your way 

The digital health and wellness market is becoming increasingly crowded and at warp speed, with everything from meditation apps to nutrition plans, to virtual fitness. Companies need to act swiftly to grab a piece of that market-share and sometimes the process of recruiting or reallocating resources can slow them down.

Digital partners arrive at the table rearing and ready to go, with the pre-built, configurable options you need to get started immediately. Instead of providing a fully ready solution out of the box, the right partner offers a framework for a digital solution that’s configurable to your programs’ unique offerings and needs.

Not only can they take your existing assets and get them platform-ready, they’re able to provide valuable extras. For example, if your program includes educational resources, your partner may have a bank of existing content to fill gaps in your library. Or if you offer one to one wellness coaching, your partner may be able to provide coaches already adept in the virtual world. Without needing to search for coaches or develop new content, your time to market can be cut in half. Rather than pushing your internal team toward the finish-line for up to a year, digital SaaS partners can have you up and running for members in mere months.

3. Proven expertise 

Regardless of how successful your health and wellness program has been pre-digital, winners in the virtual world are the ones who strengthen commitment and create constant engagement on their platforms. But not just any app builder can guarantee this. After all, engagement is a complex phenomenon – just look at what happens with peoples’ New Year fitness resolutions: research conducted by Strava using over 800 million user-logged activities predicted that the day most people are likely to give upon their New Year exercise resolutions was January 19th.

Getting engagement right requires a deep understanding of what drives human motivation, and your partner should have proven expertise on these nuances. Beyond building a website or designing an app, they’ve ideally worked with programs focused specifically on modifying health behaviors at scale, know how to get members on-board and how to keep them continuously engaged and progressing towards their goals.

4. Support for the long haul

Most importantly, your digital platform provider needs to be more than a one and done vendor. They’re a true partner, eager to support you every step of the way. When vetting digital partners, look out for capabilities like:

  • Powerful analytics that drive engagement through personalization, like flagging behavioral markers for coaches to act on, or recommending content based on users’ personal goals
  • Ongoing program consulting, including support for marketing to help get your program up and running
  • Reporting capabilities that help improve and iterate your program to deliver the most effective user experience

Partnering with a like-minded, mission-driven SaaS partner who’s also working to help people live healthier, ensures that your platform is ready for anything and can evolve alongside your member community.

Although the build vs. buy debate is a hot one for any company looking to provide a digital health solution, the answer for health and wellness programs is pretty simple. You need to solve for your lack of resources quickly, without compromising on the elements that make your program its own. Enlisting a digital partner which specializes in health and wellness programs can check all of the boxes – from cost savings to high engagement rates – setting you and your members up for ultimate success.

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