Selecting a Decision Support System

August 29, 2017 11:12 am

Decision support systems are crucial in today’s volatile healthcare environment. Such a system applies cost data to department operations to support budgeting, productivity, and performance monitoring. It also can provide data for assessing service-line profitability, performing health plan analyses, and quantifying the cost of quality.

The cost of purchasing and maintaining a decision support system is significant, but so is the potential ROI. With so much on the line, hospitals should follow a rigorous process when deciding which cost accounting or decision support system to adopt.

Case Example: Trinity Health

Trinity Health was the fourth largest U.S. Catholic health system in the early 2000s when it initiated development of an in-house decision support system that heavily leveraged Excel functionality to create cost data and a data warehouse to provide reporting.

The system was working quite well for many reasons. However, following a 2013 merger, the homegrown system proved inadequate for the larger organization, prompting Trinity Health’s leadership to explore options for purchasing a more viable solution. 

Selection Process Overview

Trinity Health’s leaders recognized that an effective decision support system is critical to many strategic and operational functions, and that selecting such a system is a major decision requiring a strict and purposeful process to make the best decision for the organization’s needs. With this idea in mind, Trinity Health adopted a selection process comprising the following steps.

Identify potential vendors. There are several vendors in the market today with viable products. The best approach to finding the right decision support system provider is to talk to other organizations of similar size to see what they use. A healthcare organization should spend time and effort planning expectations for the new system and determining what critical foundational elements should be expected from vendors, such as market presence or currently implemented and adopted products. 

Develop the request-for-proposal (RFP) tool. The RFP tool should reflect the goals and objectives of the organization and allow the responses to be ranked based on what the organization deems most important from a strategic and operational sense. As noted earlier, a decision support system supports a wide range of users and processes. To develop its RFP tool, Trinity Health assembled a group of representatives from finance, clinical leaders, IT personnel, system architects, and others. The group met every two weeks to develop the final RFP product over the course of three months, including questions group members had about potential systems.

Check references. References are a key element of the process. Getting feedback from productive users allows an organization to create a vision for its own success. Hospitals and health systems face many of the same challenges, and actual users of a system can share guidance and lessons learned.

View demonstrations. To ensure a system is right for a particular organization, the team selecting the system should have a weighted scoring tool based on organization priorities, such as ease of use or scalability. The scoring tool Trinity Health used was similar to its RFP tool and allowed potential partners to show how well their system supported each requirement. Trinity Health requested additional demonstrations with two potential partners, testing each decision support system provider’s response to the issue using actual complex scenarios the health system was facing.

Select the system. After the rigorous process of soliciting proposals, checking references, and hosting demonstrations, choosing a decision support system should be fairly simple. With tools that provide a scoring system, a healthcare organization can ensure the system it selects will suit its needs.

Nancy Rocker, FHMFA, is manager, decision support services at Trinity Health, Livonia, Mich., and is president-elect of HFMA’s Eastern Michigan Chapter.

David Janotha is president, Cadazl Advanced Analytics, LLC, Oshkosh, Wisc.


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