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By Jef Williams

I have discovered a rhythm to our industry over the past nearly 20 years working in healthcare IT and medical imaging. Despite the disruptive nature of innovative modalities, AI, analytics and advanced imaging applications, there remains a staunch ebb and flow that is quite predictable. I would characterize this pulse as the interplay of vendors, providers and events. Purchasing, innovation and, ultimately, adoption is dependent upon this annual dance. This is not unique to health care nor imaging. You can find these patterns in technology (Oracle Week), fashion (Paris Fashion Week) and consumer electronics (CES).

I find it interesting, though, that much of the message that wraps these popular and intensive events has often found its way into the local, daily vernacular of health care environments where real people are doing real work to solve the mundane, yet important problems. People return from these events with some sense of confusion related to true solutions but with a pocketful of terminology. “We need to look at cloud solutions in a deconstructed model that provides an enterprise platform,” says one meeting member. “Oh no, we will be federating with a careful eye to data in motion utilizing a VNA with zero footprint viewer to ensure data protection,” argues another. Thing is, both may be right, and possibly no disagreement truly exists between them.

Vendors have historically adopted a transactional model for sales and engagements. Modalities, and even PACS to a certain degree, were known quantities. I speak often with leaders within the technology solutions and they are fighting hard to build consultative sales teams. I applaud this effort, but it is incumbent upon those of us who are making or influencing decisions to really enforce this type of behavior. We need to drop the terms that everyone knows and start with problem statements and use cases. Only then will we make the kinds of informed and smart decisions that make our technology eco-systems and ultimately our organizations higher performing and better prepare for the ongoing shifts in delivery.

I am not pointing fingers here or vilifying vendors for this. They need to find ways to explain these innovative solutions and often are looking for ways to differentiate products and functionality. The downfall here, from what I have experienced, is that burning that into our local lexicon can cause significant issues with design, procurement, development and ultimately deployment. Many times, I have experienced conversations in war rooms and board rooms that are not truly achieving their true value because of the limited vocabulary of those in the room. Just recently I was discussing with a CIO their recent procurement of a solution. I asked what drove that decision – his response was, “Because everyone in imaging is telling me we were the only people who don’t have this.” Problem is, this organization already had equivalent functionality required to meet their business model with existing systems. What they really needed were tools around simplifying access and optimizing their workflow.

So, how do we get better at asking the right questions and moving away from marketing and vendor narratives in defining our problems and getting better in defining exactly what we are working toward and what we need to get there? Here are a few tips I have learned over the past few years in preparing for strategy, design and selection meetings.

  • Orient Yourself: Everyone is tempted to “keep up with the Joneses.” Problem is, the Joneses are looking to farm, and you may be looking to manufacture. Architecture must align with business and clinical strategies. Too often those in IT get caught up in wanting the latest and greatest. While that is a lofty goal, health care does not generate enough revenue from IT to let them drive. Just because we can, does not mean we should. Know yourself. Know what you are capable of doing. Then, be sure you are justified in what you are doing.
  • Clearly Define Your Problem Statement: Problem statements are tricky. The stakeholders within health care represent differing, and often conflicting, interests. Defining the problem statements begins with defining the stakeholder group that represents the problem statement. There will be a list. And all will be important. But they will not be equally important. Prioritize.
  • Codify Your Goals and Outcomes: What are you trying to achieve? Break it down by year over a 5-year process. These goals are related to revenue, cost avoidance, architectural simplification, data security, clinical workflow and patient engagement. Codifying these outcomes will help you contextualize the vendor solutions and offering beyond how they may brand or bundle functionality.
  • Consider Alternatives and Bridge Strategies: Your long-term goals may require near term solutions. You may need to adopt a bridge or interim strategy that allows you to meet your goals in some unique way prior to future enterprise adoption of a single vendor system providing critical steps required within a department or specialty.
  • Come with an Agenda: Any meetings with vendors should be driven by your best-informed leaders. Those who have done steps 1-4 above. Certainly, respect those from the vendor side who’ve taken the time to prepare slides or demos, but begin the conversation before you meet. Clearly define what the meeting is about, have a clear agenda of what you want to discuss, and let them know what the outcome of the meeting will be. This will ensure a better experience for everyone, save hours of wasted demos and PowerPoint presentations, and ultimately speed your decision-making and ultimately your better new future.

This is a most exciting time to be in our industry. And our success in achieving better health care will require a better-informed buying community, and a vendor community committed to collaborate and consultative sales and support. I am hoping, and diligently working to ensure, we don’t mismanage this great era.

Jef Williams, MBA, PMP, CIIP, is a managing partner at Paragon Consulting Partners.

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