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Registry Perspectives

Shopping for New Registry Software

Be certain to partner with key stakeholders during this endeavor, especially health IT staff.

The cancer registry is the data cornerstone of any cancer program. Having a robust system to collect, maintain, and report data is necessary for any successful program.

With the number of registry vendors, comparison shopping can be done efficiently. I would recommend using a comparison spreadsheet in order to keep track of the information you obtain as you identify the best product for your institution.

Make certain that you are partnering with key stakeholders during this endeavor, especially with IT staff. They are instrumental in asking insightful, technical questions that can greatly impact the decision. Identify all "deal breaker" items before you begin your search to ensure those areas of concern are addressed early on with each vendor.

In general, when it's time to shop around, consider these items:

1. Cost - This is a seemingly easy way to compare registry vendors against each other, but beware of oversimplification. How much does the base product cost annually and over the life of the contract? What is the impact on the cost if you choose the Application Service Provider (ASP) version?  Is there a per-user fee? How much does it cost to add each new user? Take into account additional costs not noted up front. Factor in if the existing registry or IT equipment needs to be updated in order to move forward with the new system. For example, a new server may be necessary to sustain an in-house product. Also, if there are functions being automatically performed, but in the future will need to be manually performed, that cost may require consideration.  

2. Software Features -The sales team can be very pleasant to work with, but ensure they fully understand your needs and expectations. You are responsible for safeguarding that what your registry requires will be available in this new product.  Study the product's features thoroughly. Evaluate whether any customized features you currently depend on would be available in the new system. What are you doing now that you need to be able to do with your new system? Ask the vendor to demonstrate how it would work in this new environment. Bells and whistles can be appealing, but would they actually be utilized in your registry? Consider if a particular feature would represent a time savings or efficiency in operations. Perhaps it allows the registry to grow and can be utilize in the next year or two.

3. Interfaces - Most vendors offer interfaces, whether live or via batch import.  If you already have interfaces, can the vendor match what you currently have and with the same expected functionality? Be very specific, and request to speak to others outside the sales team if you're not receiving satisfactory answers. Ask what other interfaces they can offer above and beyond what you already have. Is it a per-interface fee? Is the fee annual or one time? If you have limited funds, consider which interfaces make the most sense. Also, try to glean how long it will take to install the interfaces and what resources are needed. You may find yourself paying for a service up front that is not installed for some time.

4. Software Demonstrations - Registry association meetings provide a convenient opportunity to pursue pressure-free demonstrations, but know that vendor time may be limited or you may be interrupted. Be ready to ask your questions and evaluate the features of greatest interest. When ready, schedule a demonstration for your facility. See the product, top to bottom, at least twice. Do not rely solely on one demo. Be sure to invite your IT department and registry staff as they will be able to provide more comprehensive feedback.

5. Conversion - Unless you're starting a registry from scratch, you will need to convert the data from the old software into the new. Take into consideration the necessary downtime for a conversion and the impacts to existing deliverables. During the conversion process, what work can be done? How will follow-up be impacted? Is there any data that will not be converted over accurately and completely? Request a list of what work will need to be done post-conversion. How many cases will be affected and how many hours will need to be allocated to ensure the data is clean and complete?

6. References - Request a contact list of new clients the vendor acquired over the last six months. The list should include at least one facility similar in size to yours. Spend some time speaking with these registries regarding their satisfaction. Is there anything they would have done differently had they known in advance? They may be able to provide some additional insight and allow you to avoid a potential pitfall.  

7. Support - Understand who you will be relying on once the sale is final. How are supports calls logged, and how quickly are they answered, on the average? Who will be your chief contact for the conversion and interfaces? What is their experience? What are the support office hours? If you're located on the west coast but the office covers mainly the Eastern time zone, this could pose a problem.

8. Add-on Modules - Does the vendor have any modules that would be of benefit to add on, such as those that would help with accreditations? Would these modules assist in making documentation easier and ultimately reduce time and cost? Are there modules for navigation, research, etc.? If these products are of interest, consider bundling add-on modules in an effort to negotiate better pricing.

9. Business Profile - Even though there are a handful of software vendors in the registry business, I would encourage you to complete a brief comparison of business profiles of each. As far you can tell, how well-positioned is the company for the next few years to support the registry software? How much turnover has there been in the leadership of the company? Has there been any recent merger and how well did the registry services come through? You want to ensure, as much as possible, that as a client, you are a priority.

Once you've been through this process, there should be few surprises as you make your decision. Changing software is not an easy task, but if done properly, it can enhance your cancer program dramatically and provide a solid platform for growth in the coming years.

For more information on the National Cancer Registrars Association, visit www.ncra-usa.org.

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