Question Time: Software Vendors

Computers continue to play an ever-increasing role in the delivery of health care. From an IT perspective, nothing has more of an impact on the way a practice functions than the practice software and the company behind it. To that end it is crucial that you are well informed about both the product and the organisation.

How is support provided?

While the features of a software package are easy to evaluate, the quality of the support an organisation provides is much more difficult to assess. In addition to references and testimony from other practices, the following information should be of assistance:

  • Can the data conversion, software installation and training be performed in-house or is a company representative required?
  • What times is telephone support available?
  • Does your company have any staff or agents in our area for problems requiring onsite assistance?
  • Can your company remotely access our practice to provide assistance and training?

Does my Division have expertise in your product?

While Pulse IT strongly suggests choosing a software vendor that provides direct technical support for their products, Divisions have long provided effective IT support to practices. Most Divisions are proficient with Medical Director, but more progressive groups are also able to assist with competing packages such as Best Practice, Genie, MedTech and Practix.

Which IT support organisation do you recommend?

As most software vendors try to avoid involvement in network and hardware related issues, all practices need to have a relationship with an IT support organisation if an appropriately skilled practice member isn’t available.

Compared to common Microsoft programs and other mainstream software solutions, practice software is relatively rare. To that end, many IT support organisations will not have heard of practice your software, let alone know how to effectively support it.

Your software vendor should be able to suggest IT support organisations that have expertise in their software and practices that should be able to provide references for these groups.

What competing packages can you convert data from and to?

While data conversions are obviously important when you change practice software, it is also important to be confident that your software vendor can import data from other clinical packages in the event of a practice merger.

It is equally important for practice software to have the ability to export data into a format that other vendors can access easily.

How often are software updates provided?

While some see software updates as a blessing and others a curse, they are an essential component of practice software. As practice software has matured, updates have become easier to install, however pre-planning is still necessary to ensure a smooth upgrade. Unless there is a regulatory requirement or critical flaw that will be addressed by an update, Pulse IT encourages practices to defer upgrades for at least a week after their release. Usually this is enough time for other users of the package to identify any bugs and for the developer to provide a solution.

How are software updates delivered?

As broadband Internet becomes more prevalent, most vendors have opted to make at minor updates available online.

If, for some reason, you are resisting broadband, ensure that your software vendor will continue to supply you with regular updates on disk.

Is the program’s manual updated with each software revision?

When requesting an evaluation version of a practice software package, take note of how well its features and functionality match the supplied documentation.

Even the most comprehensive manual will be of limited benefit if it lags behind the version of the software your practice is running.

What other training resources are available?

Despite many vendors producing high quality documentation, a significant number of doctors, practice staff and IT professionals seem averse to the notion of actually reading it.

Perhaps in an effort to cater to this group, some vendors and third party companies have put considerable resources into developing training videos that provide a concise overview of their products capabilities.

Training videos don’t negate the need for comprehensive written documentation, but they can be an effective training tool, particularly for new staff.

Do you have a web forum or email discussion list?

Most doctors, practice staff and IT professionals who subscribe to these services find them to be a very useful resource. In many cases they also provide an avenue for the users of the software to liaise with its developers. Monitoring a vendor’s forum is perhaps the best way to gauge satisfaction levels of the existing user group.

Which secure messaging products do you integrate with?

There are many products that enable efficient, secure and audited transmission of patient information over the Internet. In addition to discussing your requirements with potential messaging providers and the colleagues with whom you will be corresponding, it is a good idea to discuss these products with your practice software vendor.

While basic compatibility with most secure messaging solutions is probable, some products will have tighter levels of integration resulting in a more efficient workflow.

What major developments are you currently working on?

While all vendors have ever-expanding “feature request” lists, it is useful to know what enhancements to expect around the corner.

How many practices do you currently have using your solution and what is your growth rate?

The number of practices using a software product is not necessarily a good indication of the strength of the solution, but it does provide an indication of the ongoing viability of the organisation.

The growth rate (i.e. the number of new sites a vendor is installing per week) is perhaps the best indication of how a product is being received in the market.

What is the cost of an additional license and what is it based on?

As staff numbers increase and practices become more computerised, additional licenses will generally be required. For budgetary reasons it is useful to know what additional upfront and recurring costs will be associated with an additional license. It is also worth asking what a license is measured against i.e. per computer, FTE, concurrent user etc.

Do you make provisions if we want to reduce the number of licenses?

As many vendors themselves have to pay license fees for the software they sell, it is unlikely that a license fee will be refunded in the event of a staff member leaving your practice. Annual fees however, should reduce slightly in such an event.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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