How to do it... be 'up' on IT

Information technology can be one of an administrator's biggest and most intimidating challenges. This special How To article offers expert advice on how providers who don't typically work with IT on a day-to-day basis can best stay up to date on necessary regulations, advances and recommendations.

1. Just knowing where to get reliable and useful information can be vexing. Just ask Myra Johnson, vice president of Human Resources at Heritage Community of Kalamazoo.

“My biggest challenge is there are so many programs and systems out there and it takes a lot of time to identify and evaluate the effectiveness and benefits of new products,” she says. “As a result, we tend to limp along with what we have rather than aggressively search for more current products.”

Opportunities to learn are ubiquitous. KLAS Research, for example, provides a wealth of objective IT assessments free and online.

As Keith Speights, the president and CEO of Constant Care Technology, advises, attend national and state industry conferences on key technology advances and technology-related regulatory developments.

Other vendors such as Matt Walker, director of product development of NTT DATA Long Term Care Solutions, suggest subscribing to e-newsletters, blogs, RSS feeds, traditional magazines, vendor webinars and websites such as LinkedIn, which has multiple communities on myriad topics like healthcare IT and a tool called “CAST,” which explores emerging IT tech. Old-fashioned peer benchmarking is another opportunity.

Don't overlook vendors, reminds Rachel Weeks, senior director of marketing, at HealthcareSource.

“People tend to shy away from talking to salespeople because they're afraid all they're going to do is try and sell them,” she says. “But in this day and age, those types of salespeople in enterprise software are not particularly successful,”

“Salespeople know their product better than anyone. What they don't necessarily know is your business,” she adds. “If you ask them questions about how their software works in the context of your business issues, you will get an understanding of how well they know your market.”

2. Investing in IT software and hardware requires you to ask tough questions about vendor expertise and capabilities with data security and integrity, as well as ongoing costs for upgrades. Now is not the time to be demure.

“As SNFs use technology to deliver more efficient and higher quality of care, they must do it in a secure way and constantly be vigilant so that patients' privacy rights are protected,” observes Kris Mastrangelo, the president and CEO of Harmony Healthcare International.

And as Bill Southerland, the general manager of the Eagle Office of Yardi Senior Living, emphasizes, “Be proactive with software vendors and discuss regulatory and compliance issues regularly.”

Weeks urges buyers to demand that vendors reveal the roadmap of any technology they're considering so they understand it's functional and viable long-term. In addition, do your homework on vendor support and service resources before committing, advise Weeks and Maureen Harp, the medical-surgical director of Services and Technology at McKesson.

3. Most IT vendors caution against relying heavily on return on investment (ROI) concerns.

“Too often we see tools that are selected because there is a great ROI or a feature set that matches exactly what we think the organization needs,” observes Josh Malbogat, director of senior living at Dude Solutions. “The best reporting system in the world is worth nothing if no data is entered by end-users.”

As Weeks notes, “People are getting away from using ROI as a measure because it can't always be measured.”

Adds Harp: “ROI is obviously important, but it can be hard to quantify since technology oftentimes will help solve intangible problems, such as compliance or security concerns. You want to make sure that you partner with a company that matches your drive for innovation.”

4. Here's some non-technical advice: Avoid the “shiny objects” and start small.

“A popular misconception is that cutting edge is the way to go when all that most facilities really need are lower risk solutions that have been tested, vetted and proven to some degree over time,” says Malbogat.

Adds Weeks: “Don't bite off more than you can chew. Buy a solution that will address your needs short term. Start off implementing what's going to help you today.”

5. Cloud-based IT solutions offer these key benefits: Saving money on in-house server investments and software upgrades, and better data security.

“Cloud-based software can dramatically streamline deployment and minimize the need for IT resources,” says Jim Rubadue, vice president of customer success at OnShift.

Adds Dave Wessinger, co-founder and chief technology offer for PointClickCare: “When the costs of hosting, upgrading, maintaining and operating your own data center are outsourced to a vendor, migrating to the cloud becomes a more attractive option.”

6. Involve multiple stakeholders from nursing, facilities management, HR and others in the buying decision, and hold them accountable after implementation for their part in data integrity, including accuracy and protection.

“You absolutely do not want to rely on only the tech-savvy people to make your buying decision. Because it's not about the technology. It's about the solution,” stresses Weeks.

But don't overlook holding your vendor culpable for ensuring its system plays well with existing infrastructure and systems, multiple vendors advise.