This is a Getting Started resource contributed by Michael Uretz of The EHR Group.
Michael Uretz, Executive Director
The EHR Group
700 NW Gilman Blvd. Suite E293
Issaquah, WA 98027
Tel: +1 (425) 434-7102
Making your IT Services Provider “Walk the Walk”
Some call them geeks, propeller heads, or computer nerds. Saturday Night Live had Nick Burns, The Computer Guy, who made his way through life abusing and taking advantage of his computer users, mainly because he could. And there have been countless parodies of the non-communicative techie who holds the technical future of an organization in their hands. However, whether you like it or not, at some point you will need to sign a contract with an IT services company or individual to install your software, set up your network and computer hardware, provide ongoing technical support or provide other IT services. This relationship with your IT services provider is becoming increasingly important as more and more technology is being integrated into your practice with no end in sight.
And the question is “who will control the rules of this relationship – you or your IT services provider?” I will tell you that after over 30 years of IT experience as both a provider and purchaser of IT services, it is in your best interest to level the playing field when it comes to contracting with IT service providers. I’m sure you’ve heard all the IT implementation horror stories...
That’s why I wanted to share a couple of tips on how to level the playing field when it comes to contracting with IT services companies. These come from years of negotiating with these firms as well questions that have come up from practice managers and providers attending my workshops and seminars.
How do I make sure my IT services provider lives up to commitments made?
This is why negotiating and structuring protective and all inclusive contracts and agreements is so important when dealing with IT service providers. It's unfortunate that we need these instruments to hold our partners accountable, but you need to be certain about their commitments. And that's why you want to make sure you have very, very strong contracts with these folks.
One of the most important areas to focus on is really the level of service and commitment of service. This is typically spelled out in a Service Level Agreement (SLA). This spells out the Rules of the Road regarding how your IT services provider is going to take care of you. And one of the components of an SLA is the area of issue response and resolution
During the honeymoon period, when IT services providers are trying to sell you their services, sales people are quick to assure you of great support. But can your provider “walk the walk” as well as “talk the talk” once they start your project or if they are providing post implementation support? If you do run into problems, how long will the vendor have to address these problems? What are the penalties if the vendor doesn’t meet stated commitments? Sales people will commit to taking care of you, but unless there are real consequences for the vendor, you might not be the “squeaky wheel” you thought you’d be
Are they going to guarantee that they are going to respond to your phone calls in 1 hours or 24 hours? How long does it take them to actually show up? What are they going to do? How are they going to do it? How are they going to escalate things? What are they willing to guarantee? You want to get these in writing.
But some SLA’s don't go far enough. If they say they are going to come in an hour and they don't come in an hour, or don't call you in an hour, or whatever time period is agreed to, then there have to be financial penalties. Typically these penalties take place in the form of monthly credits. The actual dollar amount of the credit isn’t necessarily as important as the fact that they are now held accountable for not living up to their commitments.
Finally, there might just come a day when you’ve had enough and you want to get out of the deal completely. IT services providers like to put in a termination clause that outlines their rights. But what if it’s just not working out for you? What are your rights? Spell this out in the termination clause. If they don't come up with the goods, if they don't give you good service, well, they should be out. For example if they don’t perform their implementation projects per the project plan you agreed to you should be able to part ways. If they consistently don’t follow the Service Level Agreement for support and it’s affecting your practice you should be able to say “enough”.
And to prepare adequately for the possibility of moving on to a different services provider with the least amount of downtime, you need to make sure that all the work they do for you is documented and spelled out. They have to give you documentation of what they're doing and the processes they’ve put in place. So if you need to basically pull the plug and transition to another company, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
How do I prepare for managing my own IT down the line?
I'm actually doing this right now. I'm working with a practice that is large enough to have its own IT staff, but they want to start out with an outside IT service provider with the thought that down the line they might have their own staff.
So what we're doing is making sure that from day one any work that contractor does for us is documented.. Whatever the system architecture is, whatever the processes are; how they do backups, when they do things; what the system looks like; is all documented. At some point in time the practice will hire its own IT person and that individual will step in and say, "OK, how does this work?"
And, fast forwarding, if they have the documentation regarding all the work the IT contractor had been doing for the past one, two, three years, than it's much, much easier to make that transition - and that's very important for you to have. In addition you can request that your present IT Services provider works with whoever is taking over that role for you. You can spell this out in a Transition Services clause. At the end of the day you don’t want to be totally dependent on your IT Services Provider.
So, as you can surmise, to get into a relationship with an IT services company without adequate control of the situation can prove to be a big mistake. The future of your practice can partially rest on how well you integrate this growing flood of technology. Your expertise is taking care of patients, not managing IT. And, some IT services companies can take advantage of this. The tips in this article are just a few tools you can use to fight back and be in a little more control of your IT destiny.
Michael Uretz is considered one of the top U.S. authorities on EMR and Health IT Selection and Contract Negotiation. Michael’s specialty is representing healthcare organizations in EMR and Health It Vendor Selection, Contract Negotiation, and Project Implementation.He can be reached at email@example.com or direct 425-434-7102. Website: www.ehrgroup.com
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Copyright ©2009 Michael Uretz of The EHR Group. Published with written permission.
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Mar 27 2009, 05:10 PM