When people ask me what software I’d recommend for their medical billing needs, or for their Electronic Health Record systems, or even to handle employee payroll, I tell them it depends. They’re not usually happy with that answer. They want a quick response that’s specific to their needs. My thirty plus years in the technology business are of no value without a complete understanding of their needs.
What you’ll see below is the framework I’ve used to understand my companies software needs ever since I was tasked with finding the perfect accounting software for an Inc. 500 software company in the mid-1990s.
Determine your specific needs
If you’re already using a product that you’ve grown dissatisfied with, write down what you like about it, then write down what you don’t like. Talk to your staff, the people using the product on a regular basis. Within a day or so you’ll find you have a good starting point for understanding your needs.
The next step in the process is to ask yourself whether or not the software will need to communicate or integrate with anything else. In the early days of Electronic Health Records, thousands of practices selected what they were sure was the perfect product, only to find out it didn’t integrate with the software at the local hospital. Does it need to communicate with a remote office? A local hospital? Your payroll processing company? Quickbooks? Begin to build a list.
What technology do you need to run the software?
This is easy, right? If the software runs on a PC, you need a Windows computer. Or, do you need a network server? How secure does the network server need to be? Who takes care of the server, keeping it up to date with patches and security? How will you handle backups? Do you even want to handle backups?
Maybe you’re looking for a cloud-based solution, so you don’t need to worry about things like network administrators and backups. But what about user passwords? Do you need to set up rules for passwords? How often will they need to be changed? Will you allow employees or even yourself to access data from home?
Do you want staff to be able to access your data from smartphones? Do you want an app? If so, does that app need to run on both IOS and Android?
Build YOUR list of technology requirements before you start looking at specific products. If you don’t want the hassle of securing a network server, don’t let a salesperson with a flashy demo change your mind.
Best in class applications or an all in one solution?
Are you looking for a product that handles a single function, or something more comprehensive? If you’re looking for single-function products, are you (and your staff) prepared to do the training and support for multiple products?
If you’re looking for accounting software, you may also want payroll with the same product. If you’re looking for a solution to help you run your private duty home care company, you may want it to include payroll, scheduling, home care billing, and accounting.
Research the products
Product research is where too many people start the process, which is a big mistake. Doing product research before you have a list of requirements allows the vendor to influence the requirements list for your perfect product with their marketing material. You’re far better off building your list first and then beginning the product research phase.
This is the time to dig into feature lists on websites and speak with company sales people. Let them know your want list upfront, it will save both you and them time. Don’t be wary of talking directly with sales people. A good sales person understands her product and can show you how it can work to solve your needs. She’ll let you know if there’s not a good fit, saving both you and your staff time and aggravation. Let them know what your process is and that you’ll be speaking with multiple vendors.
Research the company behind the products
A good part of this process can be done while you’re researching the products. Find out how long the company has been in business. Ask for references using the product the way you will. Then, once you’ve narrowed your list to a manageable number, call the references. Ask them how long they’ve been using the product, how satisfied they are, how responsive the vendor is to customers, and how often they enhance the product.
Another thing that I do before making a significant software decision is to call support to see how quickly they answer the phone, or if they respond to phone calls at all. Some companies prefer to deal only with other technical people, and they limit support to email. Would that work for you?
Rank the products and evaluate or demo the top three
I picked the number three out of thin air. You might have two, or you might have five. The important thing is to wait until you’ve sanity checked everything else before investing staff time evaluating products. I think you’ll find this process to be pretty fast, once you’ve reached this stage because you’re so well prepared.
The process of evaluating new software applications for your healthcare business seems more daunting than it is. Using a framework as an aid to the decision-making can help you to be more confident in your selection process.