The ‘Seven F’s’ to Easier LIS Selection
How to make an educated, logical decision for your information system purchase.
Evaluating and selecting a laboratory information system (LIS) can be a long and complex process. Trying to make sense of the mass of information provided by vendors, technology gurus, professional journals and hearsay/rumors can be exasperating. Some laboratory managers, in fact, may be more inclined to throw darts or use a ouija board to make a decision.
There is an approach, however, to rapidly identify a small set of the most appropriate vendors for your LIS. This “quicklook” method can be extremely useful and save much time and expense.
Where to Begin
My experience as an information systems consultant has shown that LIS selections need to take into account both analytical and subjective factors. Decisions need to be made with comfort (visceral, gut-level factors) and confidence (cerebral, logical factors). Both must be consistent and support the LIS selected. If not, don’t decide until they do. Some buyers who use complex, multi-variate scoring techniques to arrive at a conclusion may actually express disappointment at the outcome.
The “Seven Fs” approach, however, is a conceptual method that can help structure your LIS evaluation and take into account the analytical assessment as well as subjective preferences (Figure).
There are several important things that should be done to assure that you obtain the best, most informative and accurate information for decision making. For example:
* Provide the prospective vendors with comprehensive and accurate information regarding your hospital and laboratory. Be sure to project workloads for at least two years beyond your anticipated “go-live” date with the new LIS. This will permit the vendors to more accurately configure a system of appropriate size and capacity and provide a realistic cost quotation.
* Determine “function, feature, fit and feel” from vendor documentation, demonstrations with confirmation by telephone reference checks to existing users and, if convenient and inexpensive, site visits. If talking to or visiting existing users, assure that they are similar to your operation and are using the same hardware and software that’s being proposed for you. Otherwise, the information you get will be limited in value and misleading.
* Validate the “fuzzies” by telephone reference checks to many clients (randomly selected from the vendor’s complete users list). Validate current installation capabilities by contacting several sites similar in complexity to your own who are currently being installed.
* Assess the “financials” based on vendor cost quotations and analysis of the impact of their system’s functions, features, fit and feel on your laboratory’s productivity, quality and service levels. As in other purchase decisions, lowest cost is not always the best value.
* Evaluate the “future” by a visit to the vendor’s corporate headquarters and with discussions with top management of the LIS firm. A corporate visit will also help resolve any remaining function, feature, fit, feel, fuzzies and financial issues.
A Formal Process
A more formal process may be required by your institution. This usually involves writing and subsequently evaluating a request for proposal (RFP). If an RFP is required, it’s important to assure that the questions can be answered clearly and unambiguously and that the questions are important criteria in your decision process. Hundreds or thousands of ill-defined questions will not enhance the decision process. They will, however, create considerable work and, in fact, will often confound the issues and reduce (rather than enhance) clarity of information needed to make an informed decision.
One rule of thumb: RFP questions should rarely, if ever, be stated to obtain solely a yes or no answer. Avoid asking if the LIS “can” do something; rather, ask “does it.” It’s also better to elicit responses that confirm that the function, feature, etc. is operational, under development, planned or simply not available. Further, each response should include indication as to whether the function, feature, etc. is actually included in the vendor’s cost quotation. A vendor may respond “yes, operational,” but it may not have been included as part of their configuration.
Any system evaluation has two major components: cerebral and visceral. A successful, high confidence evaluation and selection will have occurred when both intellectual and “gut level” conclusions are in harmony.
Dennis Winsten is president of Dennis Winsten & Associates, a leading laboratory systems consulting firm based in Tucson, AZ. The firm has been serving its clients since 1986.
Figure: The Seven F’s
What does the system do? In other words, determine its scope of applications (e.g. microbiology, anatomic pathology, blood bank, quality assurance, etc.).
How does the system do those things? Define special characteristics, such as paperless microbiology, report format flexibilities and the like.
How does the system fit with other institutional information systems? Is there commonality of hardware and/or software?
How easy is the system to use? It’s best if it requires minimal keystrokes or mouse clicks, has a logical transaction flow and has context-sensitive “help” capabilities, etc.
5 FUZZIES (WARM)
What is the vendor’s service and support reputation? Ask, for example, if previous installations have gone smoothly and on time, how quickly user problems are resolved and if requested features are implemented rapidly and at no or minimal cost.
What is the cost and relative value of the system? Are the operational, productivity, quality and service benefits consistent with the cost?
What are the future prospects for the LIS vendor? What is its financial strength and corporate business strategy? Is the firm financially and managerially stable? Are the firm’s business strategies compatible with your institution?
figure/courtesy Dennis Winsten