By Gwen Elwood
Healthcare administration and delivery is challenging enough without adding to its complexity. Yet that’s what many healthcare organizations unwittingly do when they rely on several application platforms instead of using a single vendor’s application.
While some specialty software solutions may offer more features and functionality than those of a single vendor, it often comes at a substantial internal cost. Purchasing and licensing expenses for multiple systems can easily stack up, not to mention staff time for managing vendor relationships and coordinating system implementation, training, and servicing.
In this article, we look at the potential benefits of using an integrated applications platform versus platforms from multiple vendors. We also describe a process your organization can use when deciding whether to migrate from a multi-vendor system to a single-vendor platform.
In recent years, the functionality and quality of single-vendor applications has significantly improved, increasing their appeal to healthcare systems of all types and sizes.
Consider these typical benefits of a single-vendor application:
- Across-the-board workflow speed—With a single system, you don’t have to flip between different systems that may or may not be integrated, increasing overall workflow speed.
- Faster procurement and follow-up—Rather than comparing and sorting through multiple vendors, you can deal with just one vendor, one invoice, and one point of contact for sales and service. If something goes wrong with your system, there’s no “blame game”; you’ll know whom to call right away.
- Faster deployment and staff training—When working with a single vendor, there’s no need to plow through multiple sets of instructions on setting up and integrating a variety of systems. Instead, you can quickly get staff members up to speed, and more efficiently train them on new features and applications.
- Faster availability and adoption of new features—Your release cycles for upgrades, enhancements, and bug fixes are streamlined because you’re only dealing with one system and vendor.
Is an integrated platform right for you?
Despite the inherent advantages of using a single-vendor platform, making the decision to go that way should not be treated lightly, especially if your organization has successfully relied for years on multi-vendor systems. You’ll want to closely examine the business, strategic, operational, and clinical impact of any move before making a final decision. That’s the approach one leading regional healthcare system took, and their method offers a guide to other organizations facing a similar decision.
The healthcare system was maintaining two separate EMR vendor platforms for its hospitals and medical centers, which continuously strained its user and support bases. This setup also added to operating costs and impaired operational efficiencies.
The health system’s leaders knew the potential benefits of switching to a single, integrated platform, including simplifying their technical environment, improving care coordination and staff satisfaction, and enhancing safety and patient experience. They could also foresee how standardizing applications synced with the organization’s long-term growth plans.
Conversely, the system’s leaders knew there would be a substantial immediate cost in changing to a single application. Additionally, this change would likely take years to fully accomplish, alter operations across the enterprise, and create significant strain during the transition period. All of these potential downsides needed to be weighed.
The health system identified three principal tasks in its decision-making process:
- Assessing the current state of the system’s application approach
- Defining the potential future state of a single-vendor application platform
- Analyzing and giving feedback on all benefits and constraints of this decision
In assessing the current-state applications approach versus the desired future state, the healthcare system’s leaders decided to confine their analysis and recommendations to seven principal areas of focus. These were:
- Patient experience, safety, satisfaction, and consumerism
- Care and administrative team satisfaction and operational efficiency
- Care continuum and coordination
- Standardization and streamlined interoperability
- IT staff optimization and retention
- Market growth and innovation
- Cost savings and financial benefits
Based on these areas of focus, the healthcare system performed a contextual analysis of its principal competitors and the healthcare market in general. The analysis revealed that the organization risked significantly lagging behind its competitors and the industry by continuing to use a multi-vendor system.
For example, the healthcare system’s competitors had already adopted integrated application platforms, and thus were better able to share capabilities and forge strategic partnerships across multiple entities. This provided these competitors with greater functionality and more opportunities for implementing new technologies to meet their patients’ needs and expectations.
When analyzing how a single-vendor application environment could align with its business and IT strategic objectives, the healthcare system identified the following potential benefits:
- Enhancing data governance, risk mitigation, security, and informatics
- Standardizing and streamlining interoperability across all business units
- Increasing market share growth capacity
- Improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of IT operations
- Supporting and improving physician alignment
In sum, the healthcare system’s needs assessment showed how a single-vendor applications platform could likely support all seven of its primary focus areas. For example, from a patient care perspective, a single platform would improve the overall coordination of clinical care and reduce the likelihood of records-related errors. It would also offer several enhanced patient-facing tools to increase patient engagement, retention, and loyalty.
Organizations deliberating the long-term value of a single-vendor applications platform would be wise to perform a systematic analysis of their current state versus desired future state. By methodically thinking through both the potential positives and negatives of this decision, you’ll have much more confidence in your final choice. You’ll also gain a road map for implementing a single applications platform if you decide to go in that direction.
Gwen Elwood is a consultant with Freed Associates, a California-based healthcare management consulting firm.