Digital Health

Digital Healthcare Solutions: Bespoke or Off-the-shelf?

20th May 2020

During the COVID-19 crisis, healthcare providers around the world are turning their attention to mobile and digital solutions to solve the unique problems they’re now facing. From communication tools to telemedicine platforms, data systems to automation portals, the list goes on.

When identifying the key functionality required and the development timelines, businesses may seek out white-labelled solutions, but how do you know if they are right for your business? Today we’re exploring the pros and cons of going bespoke compared to off-the-shelf.

Off-the-shelf – What is it and what can I expect?

Utilising off-the-shelf can be a quick route to market for Healthcare enterprises who don’t have the resources to build a solution from scratch. It can be a good option, allowing you to test the waters by shipping an app that has minimum commitment. But if the user experience is critical, and features and functionality need to measure up to specific needs, off-the-shelf won’t always cut it. Let’s dissect.

Designed for a wide audience: What to expect from an Off-the-shelf product

‘Basic’ is the term often used when it comes to white label apps, and for good reason. Control over app features, design and functionality can very often be limited which could be problematic if the solution needs a very specific user experience.

When it comes to set up, some off-the-shelf app developers provide a modular system, allowing you to pick and choose individual modules for your app. Whilst in some circumstances, they can look and function like a bespoke build, you could run into limitations halfway through a project – then you’ve got a problem on your hands.

What about the commercials?

For off-the-shelf, costs will vary, sometimes significantly. Expect to pay an upfront fee for initial set-up, then a monthly or yearly fee going forward. Whatever the costs, however, you’ll never own the app because the source code remains the property of the vendor.

Off-the-shelf and scalability

While scalability may not be an issue, you need to be aware that there could be limitations when it comes to timely updates. What’s more, any updates pushed might not include those that you need the most – and being stuck with an out-of-date UI isn’t ideal for anyone.

Security & Privacy with Off-the-shelf

Great digital solutions have reliability, security and privacy at their core, and in the healthcare and medical industries there’s a lot to consider:

  • Multi-Tenancy systems. Will your user data live with other companies user data in the proprietary system? What about backups?
  • Will you have complete visibility of the user data your vendor holds, as well as what they’re doing with it?
  • Can your vendor assure you that malicious code won’t be an issue?

The difference with Bespoke

For health enterprises that have started their digital transformation, the benefits are clear – but for enterprises looking to develop an innovative programme of work, a bespoke build can seem like a pipe dream … but is it? We explore some of the key reasons why investing in a bespoke build will work for you.


To respond to security issues when you need to (rather than waiting for an Off-the-shelf provider to patch their system) is a necessity. First-hand knowledge of the developers, the libraries they use, and the tools they have to check for issues, means you’ll need an expert guide and partner. Here are a few of our security must-do’s, whatever option you take:

  • Ensure standards are followed to avoid leaving your app vulnerable.
  • Use trusted libraries that have been peer-reviewed (i.e. don’t install your own encryption algorithm)
  • Hire an independent security expert to try and crack your application. It’s the favoured route to knowing whether your app is secure (and means you’ll be keeping your customers safe and your name out of the tabloids)

Look and feel

For those with a brand to build and an unrivalled UX to deliver, the custom-build has to be your go-to. Sure, off-the-shelf offers customisation, but it could come at a premium, and with limitations.


If you’re expecting to bring a completely new offering to the market, bespoke will be the only way to truly set yourself apart, because it offers the IP-owned custom functionality to meet the demands and expectations of your user-base.


With a bespoke build, the code belongs to you, with the benefits you’d expect:

  • Changes and updates when you need and want them
  • The ability to address bugs as soon as they’re spotted
  • The reassurance and flexibility around future planning (you decide, not the vendor)
  • All good for the bottom line, and your users.


Bespoke costs vary and for the most part depend upon functionality. For Off-the-shelf, you’ll have a setup fee, a standard monthly fee, plus any additional costs incurred for, say, customisation. For bespoke, project complexity, OS, design, features & functionality and post-launch management means a bigger budget. The payoff, however, will likely far exceed that of the off-the-shelf:

  • you’ll own the application outright
  • you’ll have flexibility around every element of design, functionality and UI/UX
  • you’ll get enhanced scalability & security and you’ll enjoy quicker problem-response times


In most cases, an off-the-shelf solution will work for you if:

  • You’re a small healthcare enterprise
  • You want to ship your solution or service very quickly
  • You’re playing with a small budget
  • You’re confident that scalability and flexibility won’t be an issue further down the line

If, however, maintaining your reputation is crucial, security is non-negotiable, and the end-user experience has to be exactly what you need it to be, a bespoke build is always going to be the sensible choice, delivering an ROI that far outstrips any financial investment over the long-term.

Helping cut costs, manage precious manpower, and accelerate time to market is what an efficient, effective project team will aim to deliver for your bespoke app. The ability to rapidly evaluate and automate processes, promote cross-team symbiosis and ensure milestones are met, is what any good bespoke-build team will be aiming towards. We have to conclude that’s incredibly valuable.

Want to find out first-hand whether or not you should go Off-the-shelf, talk to us for impartial, honest advice – then get building!

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