How to avoid surprises with new software

Have techies talk to techies

You don’t want any surprises after your facility buys its new software system. Is the software user-friendly? Do manufacturers routinely walk hospitals through product procedures to make sure users can implement them effectively, or do they sell and run? When choosing a product for your hospital, make sure you read the fine print. The best advice: Involve your information services (IS) staff in any conversations you have with the software company. Or set up a time when your IS people can talk to the software company’s IS people.

Jacqueline Emery, marketing manager of McKessonHBOC’s InterQual products group in Marlborough, MA, says installation of InterQual’s clinical decision support product differs depending on how the product is intended to be used. In the case of a stand-alone installation, the process is relatively simple. The user receives the software with detailed step-by-step installation instructions and is usually able to install the software herself.

"The process is very similar to buying some off-the-shelf software for use in your home," she says. "If you are somewhat computer-literate, it is easy to do. If the product is used in a networked environment with other users, however, installation requirements must be carefully thought through.

"Together we evaluate the customer’s environment and needs," says Emery. "If there is an in-hospital IS staff, we recommend that it be involved in the discussions." Otherwise, the customer can use what InterQual terms "Alliance Partners" who get involved in the details of the installation. "They will work with the customer to install the product and/or enable the link to the InterQual software," explains Emery.

Nancy Blase, director of account management and consulting at InterQual, elaborates: "Before a sale is consummated, we provide prospective customers with information that describes our product and its system requirements. We recommend at that time that if the prospective customer is not a member of the hospital’s IS staff, that someone from the IS staff participate in a technical assessment with one of our product support specialists to discuss the exact specifications of the equipment present in the hospital and the interfacing requirements for the software. In our experience, installations are accomplished the smoothest when you get the hospital’s IS staff involved in the process early on." InterQual provides implementation services for institutions that don’t have an IS staff to perform the installation themselves; however, the company recommends that the client hire a third party to perform programming of any custom interfaces.

But who and how? Deborah Flagg, director of customer support and implementation at InterQual, says, "If customers have questions or would like self-install support on the stand-alone or network installation, they can call InterQual’s customer support line." If a hospital wants to outsource its network installation, InterQual provides contract implementation services.

"If a customer is planning on using an Alliance Partner, the process is straightforward," she says. "The interface is preconfigured at the time of shipment, and a customer simply follows the standard installation process and then contacts the Alliance Partner to enable the link."

Flagg says her company has encountered few requests for custom interfaces. However, if a hospital would like to write its own interface, the company provides a programming guide for that purpose. Additionally, technical consultants will review a hospital’s request for proposal to ensure that the software of the firm it employs builds the interface correctly. "We recommend a hospital contact several software development firms and review each proposal closely," advises Flagg. How much does all this cost? "It varies depending on the scope of the project and the time frame you require," she says.

Ron Paulus, MD, president of Care Management Science in Philadelphia, tells Hospital Case Management that during the sales process, his company’s staff make sure to educate customers about their clinical decision support products’ requirements and the different ways they can go about meeting those requirements. He says they spend time on that process because it’s so important — the hospital’s data are the essence of their product. To use one of this company’s products, hospitals are required to extract internal data from their existing information systems and send them to the company.

"The sales staff go into the process of extracting data from existing systems within the hospital and sending the data to us so we can clean, validate, and analyze it," he says. "We then put it into a rational database and give them access to it back over the Web." Every customer gets specifications, which the sales staff discuss with them. Some facilities’ IS departments can extract the data on their own by writing extraction programs to pull data off their systems into Paulus’ product. "Or we can do it on their behalf," he says. "We also have partnerships with outside vendors to extract data.

"But even when people are told how to set up a system like ours," he says, "they may not really understand it. We realize that and spend extra time to make sure there are no surprises after the fact."

Anthony Milano of Market Insights in San Francisco says a main part of his company’s philosophy is that its products, Clinical Compass and Financial Compass, be intuitively easy for users. "Our products are designed to be picked up and used immediately," he says. A hospital needs only a standard Pentium-based computer with 16 MB of RAM to use Market Insights’ products. His company’s Clinical Compass on CD-ROM for benchmarking is based on publicly available databases and does not use a hospital’s demographic information.

For more information, contact:

Jacqueline Emery, marketing manager; Nancy Blaise, director of account management and consulting; Deborah Flagg, director of product support and implementation, InterQual product division, McKessonHBOC, Marlborough, MA. Telephone: (508) 481-1181. Web site: www.interqual.com.

Anthony Milano, president, Market Insights, San Francisco. Telephone: (415) 553-8888.

Ron Paulus, MD, president, Care Management Science, Philadelphia. Telephone: (888) 223-8247. Web site: www.cmscience.com.