I don’t know how many tender documents I have filled out that contain questions about integration. Can it integrate with this, can it integrate with that?
It may seem a good idea to cover all bases and request technology vendors to integrate with your existing solutions. However in my experience integration can be complex to setup and maintain and it doesn’t always give you a lot of benefit. The risk in integrating systems from individual technology vendors is that your business continuity is now in the hands of two vendors who frequently have no partnership or existing or previous collaboration.
For example, say that I connect my software to another vendor’s software and it's running just fine. The other software vendor then rolls out an updated version of their software and consequently the integration is broken.
In the absence of a formal relationship between your technology vendors, there is no opportunity to test the integration ahead of the upgrade. This has negative consequences and can be detrimental to your business continuity.
The more connections you have intertwined between different vendors software, the more susceptible you are to down time because of it. Typically the first you will know about it, is when data from one system stops coming through to another.
Locating the issue is a time consuming and frustrating exercise. Vendors will point the finger at each other and say it’s someone else’s software that’s causing the problem. The time required to resolve the issue will stop your workflow in its tracks as patients details entered into one system just aren’t coming through to the other.
Of course there can be many positive benefits to integrations that work seamlessly. However it is not all roses and chocolates. So before venturing down the frequently rocky road to technology integration, it is worth consider the pros and cons and make a well informed decision.
So when is it worth integration new solutions with your existing technology and when is it not?
Consider the options first
The size of your facility is an important consideration. How many patients you see, how many different staff you have, how many different software applications you use.
If you run a smaller facility, you may find that it’s actually more efficient to manually re-enter the data. Use your PAS as the Mother application. This is the application were you initially enter your patient data. Your Digital Medical Records system will be a Child application that takes from the Mother. You should never enter your patient data into the Digital Medical Records System first.
Indeed, this means a duplicate entry. Your admin staff will have to enter the data into the PAS system, then again into your digital medical records system. You may think that’s inefficient and wasteful of resources, but remember the above introduction?
At least you have control over this process and, using techniques such as having both applications opened side by side on the desktop, and using cut and paste from the PAS to the Digital Medical Records system can make for fairly efficient administration.
That’s manageable if you only have a small number of applications, but if you have a lot, it’s going to be quite tiresome and less efficient.
If you run a large facility then integration may be the only way to go for you. A good idea is to map your software applications and the flow of data you require between them. That will give you an idea of what you absolutely need instead of what you may think you want.
Notice the data in the diagram above only ever goes one way. My advice would be to keep it this way unless you absolutely, absolutely must have data going back. This creates another whole level of complexity because it requires third party logically detached applications to update each other’s databases. Vendors are typically averse to this scenario as it has the potential to break their applications.
So please do not consider this lightly as it can potentially create security vulnerabilities and worst case scenario it could toast your data.
Ask yourself, why you want to integrate your PAS with your Digital Medical Record system. What do you hope to achieve from it? Can you achieve a similar result by using methods such as side by side cut and paste? Would that really be so inefficient considering that integration will cost more and brings with it a great deal of complexity?
If you absolutely must integrate, then keep it as simple as you possibly can. Have a plan. Know exactly what you want to connect to and why. Don’t send data back unless you really, really must.
It’s a good idea also for you to make the introduction between vendors. Let them know that you’re running the integration project. That way you can expect more co-operation between them.