In a previous article we commented about the definition of an APLIS. In this article, we’ll explore at least one way in which an organization can choose an APLIS from amongst all the choices present.
If you are looking for an APLIS, you have a lot of choices and a lot of material that can potentially help you make those choices. In particular, there is a yearly listing of APLIS vendors presented in the publication, CAP TODAY. Research the internet a little more and you will find an LIS Functionality Assessment Toolkit that has a section devoted specifically to Anatomic Pathology. Both of these resources provide good starting points for
What systems are available?
What types of questions should I be asking?
However, before plunging into the details of an RFP or compiling a list of specific questions, it would be wise to consider the overall objectives of your search. What specifically do you want to get out of your APLIS? Consider the importance of this question.
- An APLIS is a major expenditure in terms of time, money, and effort.
- It is a decision that you will live with for more than likely 10+ years.
- It is a decision that you will interact with on each and every case, multiple times an hour, a day, a month, a year. There may be nothing else that you interact more with than your APLIS, except perhaps the specimen material itself.
Have we got your attention? Yes, this is important!
To choose a system that won’t drive you crazy on a daily basis, or worst yet, bankrupt your organization, start with a definition of your objective. Start at a global level and then drill down to the details. For instance, are you looking for a
1. Reporting system?
2. Tracking system?
3. Dashboard system?
4. Metrics system?
5. Interface engine?
6. Or perhaps it’s all of the above or something else?
After you have your global concepts enumerated, use the toolkit mentioned previously to help define what these concepts really mean to your organization. Consider not only current problematic workflow areas, but make sure to consider workflow aspects that work well. Surely, you want your new APLIS to address your current problems, but you also do not want to go backwards in those areas that currently function well. While you are reviewing the literature pay attention to those workflow aspects that are relevant to your own organization and do not be afraid to disregard issues that are important to other organizations. For instance, if your environment only requires an interface to one or two outside organizations, perhaps an interface engine is not required. Interface engines are useful when interfacing many outside clients, but can be overkill when, for instance, you are only sending results back to 2 outside providers.
Consider not only IF a vendor provides a sought after functionality, but pay close attention to HOW the vendor provides specific functional capability. If one vendor’s product takes 10 steps to accession a case and another vendor takes 20 steps to accession the same case, you can only imagine the time your laboratory will lose when you multiply that by thousands of cases a year. This point cannot be emphasized enough. Workflow, keystrokes, and number of screens have an impact that is multiplied by the thousands.
Software functionality is extremely important. However, equally important is the type of vendor chosen and the type of relationship between the laboratory and the APLIS vendor. The type of vendor a laboratory chooses can have more of a future impact than the software functionality. This aspect of an APLIS purchase is often overlooked or perhaps, glossed over. As you are analyzing a particular vendor’s offering, pay particular attention to the vendor itself. Think about it this way. Once you’ve purchased the software,
o How do you get the software fixed?
o How do you get the software updated?
o How do you get the software changed JUST FOR YOUR ENVIRONMENT?
The type of vendor you select and the objectives behind your APLIS purchase all combine to address the issue of the vendor/client relationship. For instance, if you’re buying an APLIS just to meet regulatory compliance, then your organization will probably not require a vendor to change their software just for your specific needs. On the other hand, if your organization views the APLIS as an absolutely critical component of daily operations and that it is something that you’ve purchased to give the organization a strategic edge against the competition, then you’re going to want a vendor that is responsive and receptive to your needs. APLIS vendors are very different. Generally, larger vendors emphasize stability while smaller vendors emphasize flexibility and engagement. This is not an absolute rule, but appears to be a general trend.
Choosing an APLIS is an expensive and important decision. It is a decision that you will interact with many, many times over many years. To increase your odds of selecting the right system, define your objectives on a global level and then narrow your focus as you define your parameters. Know what you want your APLIS to do for you and pay attention to how a vendor’s offering satisfies your needs. Do not be myopic! Pay attention to the relationship and the type of vendor you are signing up with. Unlike a car purchase, you generally cannot get support from anyone else except the original APLIS vendor. Your selection of a system and a vendor will affect your laboratory for years to come…
and may just determine if you’re in business in a few years….