Many healthcare organizations are finding that the clinical or revenue cycle systems they installed 20, 10 or even five years ago no longer meet the needs of their complex and growing organizations. You may be filling functional gaps with manual work arounds or a myriad of bolt-on solutions. HIPAA, Meaningful Use, ICD-10, population health and many other industry initiatives have invoked the need for additional system requirements. While many vendors have kept up, some have struggled. Additionally, the need to improve operational efficiency and implement best practice workflows often stresses the limits of existing systems.
If you are taking the journey in selecting a new healthcare IT vendor or install a new system, there is a lot to consider beyond the analysis of the features and functions of the proposed system. Consider the areas below to make sure you are selecting a strong and dependable partner with a superior product.
Request resumes for your project team and interview some of the resources. Do they have ample experience with the products they are installing? Have they worked on a diverse set of projects that are similar in size and complexity? Do they have customer references? Do they work well together? An experienced team can be the difference between a successful implementation and one that has a lengthy post-live issues list that frustrates your users, puts your operations at risk, and shakes the confidence of the organization.
Ask for a list of enhancements in the last two major releases. Find out what is on the list for the next major release, the timing of the release and the three-year product roadmap. Is the vendor keeping up with industry initiatives? How many full-time employees (FTE’s) does the vendor have allocated to the development of the products you will be using? Has the vendor gone through a recent merger or acquisition? What impact did the change have on staffing levels? If the vendor is underinvesting in the product, it could limit its shelf life and put you at risk down the road.
Determine the vendor training strategy. Some vendors approach it from a feature or module perspective. This can leave the end-users confused about how to put it all together to complete their daily tasks. Other vendors approach it from a workflow perspective giving the user a flow of all the tasks they need to execute to complete their jobs. Is the vendor’s training adaptable to the needs of your organization? What are your roles and responsibilities? What kind of training support will the vendor provide? The “train the trainer” approach is important and allows you to develop expertise that stays with your organization. However, keep in mind that expertise takes time to truly develop. At first, your trainers may not be as effective as the vendor trainers. Make sure the vendor partners with you on the end-user training program so your staff is prepared for go-live.
There are natural variations in workflows at healthcare organizations. Is the product flexible enough to allow you to tailor the features, functions, and workflows to optimize your processes? Are there recommended best practices in terms of setup and workflow? Are there preferred partners that supply niche functionality? While no system may independently satisfy every need, you want a system flexible enough to grow with you. You’ll also want a system that will support the changes or improvements you make to processes or workflows in the future.
With or without tailoring, the product will need to be maintained and upgraded. What are the costs and the effort required by your organization? How frequent are the upgrades? What level of support will you receive from the vendor for upgrades, special projects, and day-to-day issues? Does the vendor have service metrics or deliverables that they will stand behind? Will the vendor provide you the tools and knowledge that allow your staff to manage and support the system? You need to be sure that you have a long term commitment to keep the system optimized and adaptable to industry changes.
Trust and verify:
Talk to the vendor’s reference customers about their experiences, work through your networks to contact customers that may not be official reference customers and use industry research (such as KLAS or The Loop Company) reports to validate that the vendor will deliver on its commitments. If possible, do a site visit to see the system in action.
Implementing a new healthcare IT system is a lot like doing a heart transplant. You need to keep the organization alive while you replace the critical IT tools that make it function. Go well beyond the Request for Proposal and system demonstrations. Ask the tough questions that help ensure that you have a partner that will meet your needs for the next ten to twenty years.
For more information on best approaches to IT vendor selection, download our white paper, Strategic Selection Strategies.