Flexibility, Adaptability Key in LIS Selection
John M. McMahan
For most of you, your lab will be selecting a new laboratory information system (LIS) some time in your career. While you don’t need more work to do, I suggest you try to be involved in the selection process.
Here are two good reasons:
First, the LIS will have a profound effect on your job, laboratory and facility for many years. A good choice will make that effect as positive as possible. Regardless of the LIS selected, the information learned in the selection will help you to integrate the system into your laboratory.
Second, actively participating in the LIS selection will mark you as “systems literate” and actively interested. Being known as someone interested and knowledgeable in information management is a good career move.
Making a quality selection of a LIS is very different from selecting other equipment. This is because the expectations of the benefits and use of a LIS and of the LIS vendor are more demanding than what is expected of other equipment and suppliers. For example, a lab instrument is expected to perform one task effectively. The lab expects to replace instruments as its needs change. The LIS, on the other hand, is expected to adapt to the changing needs of the lab and not have all the same functions or work in exactly the same manner throughout its life. Therefore, to make a good LIS selection, you must assess the flexibility and adaptability of the system in addition to its current functionality.
Assessing LIS Functionality
Assessing the current functionality of a LIS is reasonably straightforward and takes three general steps.
Your request for proposal (RFP) will outline your specific requirements. The answers provided by the vendor will allow you to see if your functional needs are met. In most cases, it is not necessary to write an extremely long and highly detailed RFP. Instead, focus your questions on those areas that are most critical to your operations and the goals of your facility. Remember, it is imperative that the RFP and the vendor’s responses be included in the contract.
Participating in the vendor demonstrations will allow you to see how the system does its tasks in relation to your workflow. Write demonstration scripts that include scenarios from your most frequent and difficult-to-manage operations. Have each vendor follow your scripts exactly; otherwise you will not be able to see how the different systems will handle your most critical tasks. Document your evaluations and thoughts.
Making reference calls and visiting existing sites will augment your assessment by verifying that the vendor claims are true and others are using the system successfully. Make reference checks a key part of your selection process. Assign people from different levels and jobs to make reference calls to their peers in as many of the vendor’s current installations as possible. Call both new and old clients and ask about both the system and the vendor.
Flexibility and Adaptability Assessment
The ability of a LIS, in itself, to adapt is a function of its basic design. An adaptable LIS is one that makes internal decisions based on tables and is built from structured modules. (Structured modules are individual functional areas that have detailed written specifications and complete program documentation, and follow accepted change management procedures.)
Most contemporary systems use tables for internal decision-making to some degree. Determine a LIS’ flexibility by learning how much of the system can be tailored by the user rather than having to go to the vendor for either table modifications or programming intervention. Look at functions such as reporting and label formatting as areas where user tailoring via tables will provide you needed flexibility. Look at the table build requirements and tailoring methods as part of your demonstrations and ask about them during your reference checking.
Systems that are built from structured modules are both more adaptable and generally easier to support. This makes changes to individual areas faster and easier for the vendor. Making it easier (and cheaper) for the vendor to change their software increases the odds that they will continue to upgrade and enhance their system to meet the changing needs of the lab. To make this assessment, ask the vendor to show you a complete data-element dictionary, full system documentation and their change management procedure.
John McMahan is a health care information services consultant based in Tucson, AZ.
Do you have a LIS question or topic suggestion for this column? If so, contact Lisa Brzezicki, editor, at (800) 355-5627, ext. 124, or email email@example.com.