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Mike Uretz is a nationally-recognized Dental software and Electronic Health Records (EHR) expert. Mike has helped hundreds of individual practices and multi-clinic groups properly evaluate and select software vendors and solutions, structure and negotiate pricing and contracts, provide implementation oversight and vendor management. Mike was a member of the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology EHR vendor certification workgroup, and has been a member of various federal and state working committees for EHR business practices and policy. Having been involved with the EHR Incentive program from day one, Mike has helped a number of states, to evaluate and select EHR vendors, structure contracts and agreements, and manage vendor issues. As co-chairman of the Best practices advisory committee for EHR Contracts, Mike has been instrumental in developing standards for structuring vendor contracts and pricing for use by state programs nationwide He is the founder and editorial director of DentalSoftwareAdvisor.com, a trusted and objective online resource on all matters related to dental software. He is also the point person for Advanstar’s coverage of dental EHRs and their evolving role in the dental industry and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once the deal is closed, the software is installed and payment is made, what happens when you have an issue that isn't easily resolved?
Once the deal is closed, the software is installed and payment is made, what happens when you have an issue that isn't easily resolved? During the sales process, salespeople are quick to assure you of great support, but does the vendor really come through once the system is in place?
If you do run into problems, how long will the vendor have to address these problems – immediately or in two to three days? What are the penalties if the vendor doesn’t meet stated commitments? Salespeople 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.
If you’ve read my previous article, Ís it Time to Switch Software Vendors, you’ll understand that purchasing new software or upgrading your present software is a great opportunity to finally get the vendor support you deserve. To address support concerns and protect yourself, the Service Level Agreement or SLA, is the standard mechanism to document vendor commitments. These agreements outline various areas of accountability in which the vendor is willing to make a commitment to service and support. After all, if you’re licensing the software you’re typically paying a percentage of the license fee on an ongoing basis for your support. If it’s a cloud-based system, the cost is buried in your monthly fee. So, you have the right to demand good service.
Having negotiated hundreds of these agreements over the years I can assure you there are many critical items to consider to make sure you get the support you pay for and deserve. To get you thinking along the right lines though, there are a just couple of important items to be aware of.
Support response time guarantees
How many times have you called your vendor with software issues and they just pay lip service or worse, not return your calls? Or, they tell you that they are taking care of it but you never hear back as to resolution status. This can cause a lot of angst and stress. More and more, we are seeing vendors that don't even have a live person for you to talk to initially, but instead have you contact them electronically. And in many of these cases, you not sure what is going on as the vendor falls silent.
This is especially bad if it's an issue that affects real-time patient care or cash flow. You need to know when and how you will be taking care of. Be aware that different functions of the software might warrant different response times. For example, charting problems or bugs might need immediate attention, while a problem with a patient education component might not be as urgent. Your contract should spell out response guarantees along with associated penalties. Don’t accept a vendor telling you that they have a history of great service. Get in it writing. Be the “squeaky wheel.” Vendors that don't have solid service level agreements will tell you that they have a good track record of support, or they been around for a long time and you should just trust them. But if you took vendors at their word why would you need a contract at all?
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System uptime guarantees (cloud models)
You have to remember that when the vendor is hosting your system, they have more control over the operations of the software. They are in control of whether the system is up or down and accessible. They have control of your data. Unfortunately when groups and practices sign contracts they often don't think to make the vendor accountable for all this. In reality, many times a vendor doesn't even run their own data center in a cloud-based model. Instead they contract out with third-party data center. So you need to make sure they are accountable for the system performance, availability and uptime. Is your system down for any length of time? Typically the industry standard is that the system will be up and working at least 99 percent of the time, if not greater. If the vendor doesn't meet that metric then there needs to be a financial penalty for the vendor. And you need to have the ability to get out of your cloud contract should you have chronic issues.
Now remember, vendors don't typically like to penalize themselves for their mistakes-what a surprise! So, if there aren't already metrics for uptime, availability and response time, with associated penalties for noncompliance, then the onus is on you to make sure you are protected.
Hold them accountable
So, don't let your dental software vendor get away with promises of great support: Make sure it happens. The key is accountability. Your vendor will have numerous customers that are all competing for the ear of the support staff should problems occur. The question is how do you assure that you will be the squeaky wheel in this scenario?
With a support agreement in writing rules of how your vendor takes care of you are laid out in black and white. Your vendor might have good intentions, but different situations can come up where a vendor support staff has to prioritize based on their resources in you want to make sure that you are one of those priorities. When I negotiate contracts on behalf of dental groups and practices I want the vendor to understand that regardless of the size of the group or practice everyone should have basic rights and remedies when it comes to software support. You need to make sure that you protect yourself from empty promises.