Nov 01 2023

What Is Platform Engineering and How Can It Benefit Healthcare?

Experts explain how platform engineering teams complement software engineers and DevOps, and why healthcare stands to benefit from this growing niche.

Platform engineering has been called the next evolution in DevOps and has the potential to move healthcare innovations forward in a groundbreaking way. Cutting-edge solutions benefiting both providers and patients can be deployed faster and on a much larger scale because new systems and software can be built upon the existing, automated infrastructure that cloud-based platforms provide. 

Organizations are recognizing the value of this engineering discipline. It’s estimated that 8 in 10 software engineering organizations will have platform teams within the next three years, according to Gartner.

It’s important that healthcare leaders understand the role of platform engineers, how they collaborate with software and DevOps teams, and the benefits for the healthcare industry. 

Click the banner below to learn how platform engineering improves DevOps workflows and results.

What Is Platform Engineering? 

Platform engineers build and maintain the underlying cloud-based technologies that power software systems. Other IT professionals use the platform’s self-service and automatic capabilities to deploy and operate software solutions.

“Platform engineering is what happens behind the scenes,” explains Rick Campion, director of product engineering at Artisight. “We build the services, the pipelines and the infrastructure from a software perspective.” 

“The use of platform engineering is not a replacement for DevOps or software engineering. Rather, it is a service ushering in a new generation between IT and developer teams,” adds Rodrigo Flores, global platform engineering services leader at IBM. “While developers and software engineers are building solutions for end users, platform engineering is enhancing that experience through automation.”

EXPLORE: Learn how a modern data platform supports decision making.

What Does a Platform Engineer Do?

Think of video chat systems such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet. A platform engineer builds the back-end architecture that enables the software to function properly — for example, the technology that aligns a person’s lip movements with their voice or connects the computer’s camera to the shared stream. 

“It looks like a simple web page, but the technology behind the scenes is much more complex than people realize,” Campion says. “The platform team takes that complexity away. The front-end team that designs the user interface leverages all of the tools we built behind the scenes.” 

Platform engineers’ daily responsibilities include making adjustments and improvements to existing platforms as well as working to develop even more advanced platform technologies. Since any technology can have operating issues, platform engineers also build monitoring tools and fix problems that may arise.

Platform Engineering vs. Software Engineering

Consider a smartphone: A platform engineer builds the core technology that enables the phone to download apps, while software engineers design the individual apps. 

Artisight Chief AI Officer Rob Ringham cites the example of his company’s Smart Hospital Platform, which uses artificial intelligence-powered cameras and sensors to power its virtual sitting solution

“Software engineers built the front-end video streaming application,” Ringham says, such as the technology that allows the virtual sitter to navigate between different screens and speak directly to patients. 

“The platform engineer figures out how to power the hundreds or thousands of video streams traversing the hospital network at any one time,” he says. “We design it so that the software engineer can easily build those user interfaces.”

“Platform engineering allows developers to lean on past infrastructure operations,” Flores adds. “This improves process automation and enables the reuse of previous tools, creating an open and shareable framework that developers can easily implement and build upon.” 

Platform Engineering vs. DevOps

When a healthcare organization is collaborating with a third-party platform provider such as Artisight, it would communicate most often with the DevOps team. While platform engineers build the infrastructure that the software operates on, DevOps deploys the platform and ensures it runs smoothly. 

“DevOps manages our software orchestration infrastructure to ensure smooth deployments,” Campion says. “DevOps handles the server setup and ensures the hospital’s servers have all of the updates required for the platform to function correctly.”

Ringham adds that the DevOps team is responsible for monitoring the system and alerting the platform engineers when fixes are needed. “If a data center overheats and three of our servers go offline, platform engineers can jump on it and shepherd disaster recovery events along.” 

DISCOVER: Here’s what healthcare organizations should know about platform engineering.

How Platform Engineering Can Benefit Healthcare

Cloud-based technologies have helped healthcare providers improve care and expand access to high-quality services. Platform engineers not only ensure these systems operate seamlessly but also build protective measures into the underlying framework.    

“The objective of platform engineering is to aid agility and improve delivery outcomes while baking in security, observability and compliance,” Flores says. “The ability to bake in governance such as HIPAA reporting and controls means that developers don’t have to be experts or worry about such topics.”

Another benefit is the ability to more easily use and scale new technologies since engineers can build on an existing platform. “Think of electronic medical record systems like Epic and Cerner. Hospitals don’t have separate EMR systems for the emergency department versus a surgical center; it’s just easier to have one shared database,” Campion explains. “The platform is the same concept, where you have that whole, single infrastructure in place that can be built upon.” 

“Let’s say a health system wants to incorporate AI technologies like natural language processing, ambient event detection, vitals monitoring, things like that,” Ringham says. “A platform like Artisight’s can onboard all of those solutions in a unified way.” 

He notes that partnering with an established platform can also help reduce costs: “You can go build one of these systems yourself, but can you deploy it successfully across the entirety of your hospital system effectively? Maybe, but you’re going to invest a lot of time and effort in doing that.”

ipopba/Getty Images

Zero Trust–Ready?

Answer 3 questions on how your organization is implementing zero trust.