Screen vendors carefully before making a selection

Make sure the firm will be in business

It’s everyone’s technology nightmare. Your software system isn’t working right, and you find that the vendor has gone out of business. Or the system you buy doesn’t deliver what you think it should, and you’re stuck with a product that isn’t what you wanted.

That’s why you should screen your vendors carefully, check references, and do everything you can to protect your organization from computer problems in the future.

Start by creating a vendor profile analysis for each vendor you are considering, suggests Marcia Diane Ward, RN, CCM, project manager for IBM Global Services, in Dublin, OH.

Include company history, size, and any recent or projected growth.

Find out if the vendor has acquired or merged with other companies or if it is planning a merger or acquisition.

Find out as much as you can about the company’s financial condition.

Consider looking at placing the software code in escrow so you will still have access to it if the company shuts down.

Ask the companies you are considering for their client base and get their permission to call and visit their customers.

Ask about their development cycle — how long it takes for them to turn around a new feature or a new release.

Find out how long it will take from the time you purchase the software until you can use it. Make sure the vendor devotes full-time people to installing your software.

Production demonstrations will be a key step in your selection process, Ward says.

Before the demonstration, develop a checklist that includes the requirements you spelled out in your request for information and request for proposal.

Make sure the vendor is demonstrating only the product that you can buy today and not something it is planning to have ready in the future. "Tell them you don’t want them to demonstrate anything you couldn’t run with now," Ward advises

Ask what changes they are planning in the future, but be clear that you want the main product demonstration to include only products that are ready to use now.

The first demonstration should be a remote demonstration through a telephone modem that lets you see firsthand how the software looks. Remote demonstrations enable you to find out if the software will fit your needs without the vendor spending travel money.

Provide the company with a demonstration script that includes all the things you want the software to do in your particular practice setting.

Get the script to the vendor as soon as possible to give it time to set up a demonstration that will include your specific needs. For instance, if you’re a case manager in a payer setting, your script might be for a patient with diabetes. You’ll want the software to demonstrate how you access claims information, patient history, utilization review information, and how you track your interventions.

The vendor representative can help you fine-tune your demonstration script. When you’re planning the remote demonstration, allow the vendor to ask as many questions as possible.

After the remote product demonstrations, you’re ready to narrow your choice of vendors down to two or three and it’s time for a visit to the vendors’ corporate headquarters.

Ward recommends sending at least two people from your company on the site visit — a nurse case manager who will be using the software and an information system person who will be working with the software after it’s installed.

Visit some of the customers who are using the software you are considering.

A nurse case manager should visit the user sites and talk to the user and an information systems person should talk to the technology people at the user site.

Ask questions that include: Would you buy the software again? How has it helped you? What problems have you had with it?

Four Criteria to Include in a Vendor Contract

  1. Implementation details with specific dates and time frames. For instance, you might specify that the vendor will give you dedicated staff for eight hours a day for 10 days during the implementation period. Include assurances that the staff will be dedicated to your company and not called off your job for an emergency elsewhere.
  2. Vendor roles and responsibility and your roles and responsibility. Specific time frames in which the software will be installed.
  3. Training and education services provided. Training and education after the system is rolled out is critical. If your staff aren’t thoroughly trained, they may have a bad experience and refuse to use the software.
  4. Follow-up and technical support criteria. Spell out that support people will be available to your staff after installation to help with the problems that may occur.

Basic Features for Case Management Software

  • The ability to support customized patient care protocols and guidelines.
  • The ability to support rule-based criteria for identifying patients who would benefit from proactive interventions.
  • Compliance with emerging and current industry standards for interfacing with other systems.
  • Compliance with the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a necessity if your company falls under HIPAA regulations.
  • Adequate security, authentication, and encryption capabilities to meet federal and confidentiality regulations.
  • The ability to accept data from other systems and to interface with the other information systems you use. For instance, you may need data from a patient information system or a scheduling system.
  • The ability to assign cases based on configurable rules.
  • A calendar function that will allow you to set up a file of to-do lists or appointment schedules.
  • The ability to generate letters.
  • Web-based capability so you can access information posted on the Internet, such as patient education information.
  • Ease of navigation with minimal steps required to complete a task.

Tips for Choosing Case Management Software

  • Make sure that everyone who will use the new software or be affected by it has a chance to participate in the selection process.
  • Get buy-in from your management team and keep them involved and informed along the way.
  • Refine your requirements for the system in specific detail before you start looking at vendors.
  • Screen your vendors carefully. Make sure the vendor you select is someone with whom you want a longstanding relationship.
  • Carefully scrutinize the company, its history, and its financial stability.
  • Check references. Make site visits and talk to the end-users. Ask them if they would buy the software again.
  • Make sure your contact spells out that the company will have dedicated staff to install your system in a short time frame.
  • Be sure you have technical support available whenever your staff needs it after the installation.