Choosing healthcare IT vendors

Innovation, reliability and accountability are three sought after qualities in healthcare IT vendors, a recent panel discussion in Toronto revealed.

Hosted by the Ontario chapter of the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC), the peer-to-peer roundtable was titled: ‘Choosing a Vendor: Picking a Partner for Stability, Business Strategy and Potential.’

The discussion revolved around IT vendor selection criteria used by healthcare providers in hospitals, public agencies and associations.

Healthcare IT needs are very different in the private and public sectors, panelists noted. “We have different business drivers,” said Linda Weaver, chief technology officer at Smart Systems for Health Agency (SSHA), a provincial government agency associated with the Ontario Ministry of Health. She said it is important that vendors recognize these differences.

When it comes to healthcare IT, vendors have a lot to contribute to the discourse, panelists acknowledged. That’s because “vendors know things that we don’t know,” said Wayne Mills, vice-president and chief information officer with Trillium Health Centre in Mississauga, Ont.

According to Weaver, it’s not so much that healthcare technology is different from IT in other sectors, but that it is often not incorporated into the work flow. ‘[Healthcare IT] is not integrated with what [end users] do,” she noted. “Doctors and nurses don’t sit in front of workstations to do their jobs.”

Other things being equal, panelists said they look for RFPs that show innovation, reliability and accountability. They said value-add from vendors can also come in the form of creative financing options or knowledge transfer.

Weaver said dialogue between health care providers and vendors must be two way, with the active participation of both sides. “[If we] find a vendor answering our questions but not asking any questions back, you have to [wonder] if this is a partnership and if they can deliver.”

Vendor understanding of healthcare problems, and their ability to suggest effective solutions is an important attribute for Don Sweet, a national executive with Canada Health Infoway Inc. Infoway is an intergovernmental organization that funds the development and adoption of electronic health information systems in various jurisdictions. Vendors, Sweet said, should understand that they are involved not in IT projects but healthcare projects.

According to Infoway executive, cost is obviously a factor in the vendor selection process (as health care budgets are tight) but it should not be the tipping point in the final selection.

Tommy Cheung, director of eHealth and pharmacy innovation for the Ontario Pharmacists Association added he would be suspicious of an RFP that came in significantly lower than others.

The consensus was that to stand out from the rest, a vendor must want to build a stable long-term relationship with health care providers and possess certain intangibles. “What it comes down to is who you feel best with,” said Cara Flemming, director, risk management and management decision support for University Health Network, an umbrella organization consisting of Toronto General Hospital, Toronto Western Hospital and Princess Margaret Hospital.

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