With the holidays in full swing, it’s almost impossible to believe that we’re just weeks away from that post-holiday tradition affectionately known as HIMSS. HIMSS might just be the only place on the planet where clinical and IT buyers can do apples-to-apples comparisons of every notable vendor in a particular healthcare segment in a single afternoon! No RFPs, no months-in-the-works vendor pitch sessions, no CSI-level detective work to figure out what a solution costs. Instead, HIMSS gives you one-stop access to the people who design, build, and sell the solution that you’ll eventually purchase to optimize your health system or hospital.
When you look at all of the indispensable benefits HIMSS offers, arguably the most important is the live product demo. But since vendors are the bona fide experts, they know better than anyone how to conceal weaknesses in their product, giving them an unfair advantage over you, the buyer. After all, even the best IT or clinical buyer can’t have domain expertise in every technology, which is why our solution design experts created this list of questions to help you level the playing field.
Let’s start with the obvious. In the flurry of demo bells-and-whistles, it’s easy to lose sight of the fundamentals. After all, features are sexy, uptime is boring. Unfortunately, the best features in the universe won’t mean much if the system supporting them is consistently down or unreliable, particularly in clinically critical situations. Vendors with high confidence in their platform should already be engaged in this level of transparency. Those that don’t may be hiding a reliability problem that could quickly become your problem when the system goes down, so make sure this data is being tracked and made publicly available 24/7.
The purpose for this question is to weed out the smaller or less experienced players from those with the resources and deep clinical expertise to successfully launch and maintain an implementation at scale. And in clinical communication land, scale matters. Even if you’re a smaller hospital or health system, a vendor that can effectively support the largest health systems will certainly be able to support yours. And if you are a large system, you’ll have peace of mind knowing their platform can handle massive communication volume without crashing the system.
As a general rule, make sure the vendor has at least two or three of the top 20 U.S. health systems as current customers. What one vendor considers ‘big’ may be a mid-size facility by industry standards.
With any subscription-based solution, there’s typically a gap between licensed users and active users. Sometimes, there are legitimate reasons – a slow deployment, poor training, or a rollout that’s isolated to a single cohort – that can negatively impact adoption. Nonetheless, active usage is still a valid benchmark and a good indicator of how much value the product actually brings, versus what the marketing people say it delivers. The ability for a vendor to track this data in real time at a deep level is critical to tracking progress and ROI.
Poor adoption can reveal systemic issues with the product that can be camouflaged by flashy features, particularly in the echo chamber of the HIMSS expo floor. As a guide, one prominent health system with over a dozen facilities has valid adoption of TigerConnect in the high 90-percent range across thousands of users.
It’s a good bet that if a vendor’s solution has high adoption and engagement, it’ll also have daily message volume totaling millions of daily messages. Don’t settle for estimates – ask for system-generated reports that detail active usage and sent messages.
Pretty much everything is easier in the cloud and secure clinical communication solutions are no exception. Even CRM behemoth Salesforce runs its public cloud workloads on AWS for a host of reasons. A cloud-based clinical communication platform means no on-premise servers or software upgrades to manage. It also provides the benefits of multi-tenancy so that improvements are instantly and universally scaled across all customers and users, with very little to no downtime for maintenance.
Integrations are essentially what differentiate clinical communication platforms from their more basic secure texting cousins. Because most existing hospital data systems have done a poor job of developing clean and robust mobile interfaces, a well-integrated communication platform can close this gap by enhancing clinical workflows through smartphone-based ADT notifications, alerts and alarms from nurse call and telemetry equipment, and real-time lab and imaging results. Below is a list of standard integrations and the minimum requirements that a clinical communication vendor should be able to provide:
Roles are the secret weapon of clinical communication adoption and efficiency. Why? Because they take a voluntary solution adoption policy and make it mandatory. Say you need the ‘Cardiologist On-Call’ or the ‘Operating Room Scheduler – Neuro’. Whoever is on-duty at that moment can be messaged directly by anyone in the hospital. No name, no phone number, no printed schedule required.
On your HIMSS demo tour, ask each vendor about their ability to integrate with 3rd-party scheduling systems (or spreadsheets, because, hey, a lot of teams still use Excel for building staff schedules). Scheduling integration will double or triple CC&C adoption and engagement almost immediately. It also gets you past one of the big mistakes of isolating your rollout to a single cohort, such as physicians, which is a total buzzkill for adoption because dozens of roles are needed to get a patient healthy. By broadening role assignments across the organization, care coordination gets faster and easier.
As important as integrations are, the ability to communicate easily with affiliate physicians and facilities outside the four walls of the hospital can be equally vital, particularly as it relates to patient safety. According to the Joint Commission, “an estimated 80% of serious medical errors involve miscommunication between caregivers during the transfer of patients.” A secure communication solution whose messaging reach stops at the doors of the hospital, or limits it to those with access to the EHR, won’t solve this problem. Look for a solution that unifies the directory of the health system’s broader network of facilities and employees. Connecting skilled nursing facilities, imaging clinics, urgent care centers, affiliate physicians, and others on a single messaging platform will translate into faster care delivery and improved patient safety.
Okay, this isn’t a question, but it’s still really important. And again, a seasoned vendor with hundreds of implementations under their belt will have this down cold. They have learned from their successes and their mistakes. Have them walk you through the clinical and technical milestones you can expect at every phase of your deployment, including the discovery phase, implementation kickoff, workflow design, integrations setup, go-live stages, and ongoing education, so you know what to expect going in. And be assured that the success of their existing customers can be repeated on your project.
Typical SaaS pricing – per user, per month – is fine for smaller organizations, but it can cause challenges for larger ones looking to tie the entire health system under a single pricing umbrella in order to achieve higher operational efficiencies. Enterprise pricing carries several advantages, including not having to ask your CFO for more budget every year as you expand the footprint of your clinical communication implementation. Enterprise-wide pricing also allows hospitals to engage the entire clinical and non-clinical staff from the get-go, so everyone learns at once and super users can emerge to help evangelize the solution.
While it’s still early days, a few clinical communication vendors are beginning to expand their reach beyond clinicians. Thus, any patient-facing solution should cover all members of the care team, including – you guessed it – patients and their loved ones. Given its popularity and convenience, texting is becoming an essential way to increase provider-patient engagement with leading healthcare organizations using secure texting as a communication channel to improve the patient experience.
Key criteria to look for include the ability to communicate with patients via text, one-tap calling, and video conferencing, all within the clinical communication app and with no passwords or downloads required by the patients or their caregivers.
So that’s a wrap of the top questions to ask the CC&C vendors you will meet at HIMSS. Keep score, be thorough, and always ask for references. With this line of questions, you should have no problem identifying the serious players and hopefully, a frontrunner or at least a solid shortlist of vendors with whom you’d like to continue the discussion.
And finally, don’t forget to come see TigerConnect at HIMSS Booth #6348. Our pre-scheduled demo calendar is now open so grab a time before we’re all booked up.