How To Leverage Drupal For Web Application Development

Jon Stewart is the President of ZenSource, an open source platform combining CMS, enterprise level cloud hosting and support.

A content management system (CMS) provides the foundation for virtually every type of healthcare web experience, from website digital front doors to portals, apps and search tools. The world of open-source provides great flexibility, customer experience, enterprise scale and security.

Drupal is one open-source CMS framework that healthcare organizations are rapidly adopting for their martech, allowing organization thought leaders to deliver digital strategy at scale. Based on my experience, here are some recommendations for how to implement it successfully in healthcare.

Understanding Security And Cost Of Ownership

When healthcare, data privacy and open-source enter the same discussion, it is important to recognize that not all open-source platforms are created equal, and the level of effort an organization must invest to secure their solution varies widely.

Even when it comes to the safest and most secure CMS frameworks, it is still important to take steps to ensure the solution is implemented securely. Drupal releases security patches as well as ongoing incremental and major version upgrades. Therefore, it is essential to deploy a team and service to proactively pull down, install and deploy module updates, security patches and version upgrades to stay up to date.

Drupal’s versatility also means finding the right partner and/or building an internal team to scale the platform is critical. Since there is a lower cost of ownership from a license and hosting perspective, there is more room to explore custom functionality and your future roadmap.

As the platform is built to accelerate scale, investing in the resources to help realize your full digital strategy from day one can help lead to success.

At the outset of your Drupal implementation, invest the time to define your three-year roadmap. Answer important questions such as: Does this include integrating your health system intranet after the website launches? Will more hospitals merge into the system? Are there third-party apps that you will want to push content to from your central Drupal database?

These are important to plan on day one with your Drupal architects to ensure the scale of the platform without needing to rework already-built solutions.

Third-Party Connectivity With Enterprise Scale

Drupal supports an “API first” approach. The Drupal install that publishes content to a hospital website or network of sites can also be published to the organization’s native app and partner sites from the same place. Site builders can utilize this feature to deploy multiple websites in one instance of Drupal, efficiently managing complex multi-site architectures at scale while maintaining a clean and streamlined workflow for dozens of content authors.

Therefore, healthcare organizations and their development partners need to plan for enterprise-scale carefully. The ability to share content and functionality between sites while also creating unique experiences is a powerful tool for healthcare digital front doors.

When planned correctly, using Drupal modules such as Groups can also be an effective choice to create a multi-site ecosystem from one central install.

Within healthcare organizations, there are dozens of technologies in place that are required for day-to-day operations, including online scheduling, provider credentialing databases and clinical trials, to list a few. There are also many more “CMS agnostic” companies excelling in specific areas such as integrating rich site personalization.

Since Drupal allows for open connectivity to all of these tools, extra care for data integration is imperative. Moreover, regardless of the open-source platform a healthcare organization chooses, ensure the implementation partner is thinking about the process for designing at scale. This includes methodology for security at scale, as well as how to build for the dynamic content a large-scale web ecosystem will need.

Furthermore, I recommend Drupal’s Migrate API for connecting third-party data and importing it, whether it’s a one-time or continuous data import process. This can help make importing data from various places much easier and can streamline content migration to automatically de-duplicate media, auto-convert freeform images and auto-remove embedded HTML/CSS in imported content.

Whatever your method is for data migration, ensuring you have a plan to map and migrate structured content as well as clean up the data will make the content authoring process much more successful.

Ensuring Ease Of Use

Regardless of your CMS, it is essential for your implementation partners to take the correct steps to streamline the admin experience. Develop the admin for the data structure, not the design. Structure your content types around data concepts. For Drupal, this might include Articles, Locations, Events or specific modules such as Paragraphs that allow you to break the content entry into logical sections.

Moreover, don’t make the content author worry about how their data is being used on the site. Make sure pages are using image styles, and use strongly typed fields (telephone, email, name) whenever possible, as this helps authors and gives the data more freedom to transform.

For content with mixed types of multimedia, consider abstracting with media types, add media fields and use view modes to ensure display. It’s important to understand the flow of your authors, and adding a single additional filter to a content view can drastically help content entry flow. Explore installing modules that can help polish the admin and remove unnecessary fields. Order them in the way content is populated and utilize help text to guide the admin authors.

In Conclusion

The power of open source continues to evolve daily. For healthcare organizations, the strategic use of open-source platforms can help offer flexibility, scale, security and cost-efficient ways of achieving results. For implementation partners, ensuring they use the tools available to future-proof their solutions allows organizations’ digital strategies to come to life at scale.

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