By Robert Avsec
The economic downturn that began in 2008 only exacerbated the disturbing trend of declining funding from state governments to local governments and forced many EMS agencies to make difficult budget-cutting decisions. Volunteer EMS agencies that depend on individual and corporate giving to sustain their operations have seen those contributions decline as well.
At the same time, EMS agencies have been promised cost savings and operational efficiencies by using software programs for patient care reports, crew scheduling, medical billing, training, and inventory control and management.
But many departments don’t realize those savings because software purchase planning fails to align applications with agency needs, use cases and resources.
As with any significant purchase by an EMS agency, the purchase of a cloud-based ePCR or locally hosted inventory control management system will yield the best results if a sound planning process is used. Remember, the best software for your EMS agency is the one that will be used 100 percent of the time by all of your agency’s stakeholders — management, supervisors and EMS providers.
1. Consider available resources
What hardware requirements do you have? Do you want the system to operate on desktop computers, tablet computers, handheld devices or a combination of all three?
Keep in mind that EMS providers, the end-users, will be responsible for the majority of data entry. Buying a software system that is solely PC-based for data entry is counter-intuitive if end-users would be more effective and efficient with their data entry if they could enter the date with a smartphone, tablet app or handheld scanning device.
Know how much money is available for the software purchase and the on-going maintenance for both the hardware and the software. Do you have the staff required for the software implementation and for training your people in its use?
2. Plan the features needed
Determine your agency’s EMS software requirements by answering these questions.
- How is your agency staffed: career, volunteer or a combination?
- How does your agency conduct inventory control, staff scheduling and billing functions: paper-based, electronic or a combination?
- What is the comfort level of your agency’s personnel with using electronic technology in the station and during emergency response?
The plan should include a list of features the department needs from an EMS software application and a timeline for its selection and implementation. This is a list of requirements every software application should meet. If a product doesn’t meet these basic requirements remove it from consideration.
- It must be easy to use.
- It must be accessible on mobile devices.
- It must work on operating platforms such as Windows or Mac for desktops, iOS or Android for tablets and smartphones.
- It must integrate with existing operational software to exchange data such as user profiles or adding dispatch information to an ePCR.
- Its battery life must cover normal operational periods.
- It must withstand all types of operational environments.
Once you have a better idea about your requirements, take a look at the software options that meet those requirements and select the products that best fit your budget. This is an important step because you want to avoid the situation where your personnel want an application that your agency cannot afford to purchase, implement or maintain.
3. Design use cases
Select a representative group of your department’s personnel — at least one participant from each stage of the process — who will to use the software. Task the team with creating use cases or scenarios of how the agency will use the software. For example, a simulated supply-chain scenario for an inventory-control system involves these seven steps.
- Receiving an item from the vendor and entering it into the system.
- Ordering the item for in-station inventory.
- Receiving the item from central supply and entering it into their in-station inventory.
- Moving the item from the in-station inventory to an ambulance.
- Documenting the use of the item for patient care.
- Returning the used item back at the main inventory.
- Placing an order to restock the item from the vendor.
Part of the scenario process is to develop a data-collection tool, like a short survey, for the study participants to complete following evaluation of a product. Use a statement-based survey that asks the respondent to rate their response to a statement, for example, “The system is user-friendly and easy to use.”
4. Test, analyze, prepare to purchase
Have the selected group run the scenario with the software application. Following the scenario have the participants complete the data collection tool. This real-time collection of their thoughts and opinions will prove more useful the sooner it is completed.
Analyze the data and share it with the entire organization. This is a critical step in gaining the buy-in from your agency’s personnel that will be crucial for ensuring that the software selected will be accepted and used 100 percent of the time.
Finally, if the EMS software you’ve evaluated is found to be acceptable go forward with the purchasing process. If the system you’ve evaluated is unacceptable, then repeat the plan-test-analyze process using another vendor’s EMS software that still meets your available budget.
5. Have technical conversations early
While personnel are testing the software, ask the vendor for technical information that will be pertinent to the ultimate purchasing decision. This is where you should engage your agency’s IT staff or contractor so that you have your tech people talking to their tech people. Get answers to questions like these.
- Can your existing records and data be imported into their software?
- How are existing records imported?
- Can the vendor demonstrate the process?
6. Review financing and contract purchase options
Ask the vendor to present their contract terms for your evaluation; ask if it’s possible to get three options — good, better, best — and the associated costs for each option.
Following these steps will give your EMS agency the best opportunity to purchase a system that meets your needs and one that your people will use. As the old adage, “Nobody plans to fail, they just fail to plan.”