Karen L. Wagner
It’s the mantra of the busy employee required to learn a new technology: Teach me the basics and I’ll tackle the bells and whistles later.
But what if the “teacher” is gone by the time you want to focus on the additional features? Or what if you don’t know enough about the specific features that you’ve put off learning to realize their value to your job?
Such concerns have led some of the companies in this year’s laboratory information systems product guide to take a long-term approach to training. These vendors are teaching customers how to better use features of their LIS months, or even years, after they’ve gone live with the system.
The value of helping established clients make the most of their LIS is not lost on Tucson, Ariz.-based Sunquest Information Systems, which initiated its Regional Solution Consulting, or RSC, program in 2008.
Through the program, Sunquest consultants routinely visit customers to observe how those clients are using the company’s LIS and to identify opportunities to increase utilization. “The concept is to drive the Sunquest client experience to a higher level,” says Jesus Moreno, who manages the RSC program. The program is intended to help customers become familiar with features they did not initially use but now are ready to learn, he explains. The company does not charge an additional fee for the on-site consultations.
“The RSC program is targeted for customers who have complex installations supporting high-volume workloads,” Moreno says. “It’s really tailored for large-scale impact and refinement, where we can maximize operations for a client.” (For all its customers, Sunquest offers such educational tools as Web-based classes and seminars and online searchable documentation.)
Under the RSC program, seven regional consultants serve about 40 percent of Sunquest’s approximately 1,200 LIS customers and visit up to 200 sites collectively every five to six weeks, Moreno says. The company plans to add more consultants by the end of the year.
The consultants, who live in the regions they serve, meet with employees at multiple levels of the health care organization, including laboratory executives, to gain insight into the customer’s strategic goals, and frontline users, to learn about challenges that may impede those goals. Rather than asking customers if there’s anything they want explained to them, consultants ask about the institution’s three- to five-year business plan. This helps Sunquest better understand how well the client’s LIS is serving that institution’s needs, Moreno says.
“When we pose those kinds of 50,000-foot questions,” he explains, “there’s a lot of data that falls out. And that gives us an opportunity to go in, grab a hold of those initiatives, and talk about how we are, or can be, supporting their future plans.”
Feedback about the RSC program has been positive, Moreno says. Sunquest user groups have praised the program’s one-on-one attention, and customer satisfaction surveys have registered an upswing in overall satisfaction.
John Baranowski, LIS supervisor at Scripps Health, San Diego, says his organization’s Sunquest consultant has been instrumental in providing timely answers about features of the lab’s two separate Sunquest systems, each of which performs 250,000 to 300,000 tests per month.
Recently, Baranowski says, he received a prompt reply from the consultant when his compliance department needed a quick answer regarding whether the LIS could encrypt patients’ social security numbers. Contacting an RSC consultant is easier than searching through technical man-uals or initiating a service request, he notes.
The consultant also showed the lab’s call center how to use the system’s automatic callback function, which tracks physicians that have been called, but not reached, and need to be called back. And the consultant has been helping Scripps integrate its two lab systems—installed more than 10 years apart—to standardize workflow and operations.
Other companies, too, offer personalized support. Sometimes the training is initiated by the vendor, and other times it’s requested by the client.
Psyche Systems contacts customers via e-mail and newsletter about six to 12 months after they start using the company’s LIS to inform them about its programs offering in-depth training on functions that weren’t stressed in the initial training sessions, says Psyche CEO Lisa-Jean Clifford.
One such program is an on-site “usage optimization evaluation.” A technical or application specialist visits a client laboratory, shadows the lab’s LIS users to understand how they are using the system, and then offers tips on how to better use the system’s functionality to improve efficiency and return on investment, Clifford explains. The evaluation usually takes two to three days.
Users sometimes forget that various features are available because they don’t use those features initially, Clifford says. Staff changes may also necessitate refresher training.
In addition to promoting its training via newsletter, e-mail, and an online user forum, Psyche account man-agers sometimes recommend the evaluation to customers who call the company’s support line frequently with usability questions. Yet less than 20 percent of Psyche’s customers use the service, which has been available for about two years. Cost is a factor, says Clifford, noting that there is a fee for the program to cover travel expenses and daily consulting rates.
Laboratory staff want the evaluation, but administrators often don’t want to cover the costs, she explains. Psyche periodically has offered discounts on the fee, which sparks customer interest. The end users—lab managers and directors, for example—consider the evaluation useful, she says. “We definitely get positive feedback from the users in the lab, especially those who are pleasantly surprised by [features] that are inherent in the system and that they weren’t aware of or forgot were included.”
Psyche also offers training at its headquarters in Milford, Mass. The program, called Psyche University, is less expensive than the on-site evaluations because the cost is shared by several customers. Class sizes typically range from six to 12 students. Topics generally are chosen based on feedback from support calls and customer requests.
Computer Service and Support, Linwood, NJ, offers site-specific, on-demand, scheduled training via downloadable applications that allow the company’s trainers to manipulate a user’s computer screen to explain functions of its CLS2000 LIS. The service is supplied at no charge to CSS customers under their initial installation contract.
Customers generally start asking specific questions about features two to three months after system installation, says Jim O’Neill Jr., vice president of sales and marketing for CSS.
O’Neill says CSS has been offering the training for just over a year and about half of the company’s customers have used it. On-site training is also available but is cost-prohibitive for many laboratories, he adds. “This [Web-based training] is a tool that allows us to give them more training on as many features as possible without the cost of travel.”
Orchard Software offers advanced user training during periodic weeklong classes held at its headquarters in Carmel, Ind. In addition to learning about new features, customers receive tips on how to maximize the features they already use. The cost of the advanced training can be incorporated into the LIS support contract at the time of purchase or purchased separately, says Orchard vice president Curt Johnson. About one-third of Orchard’s customers take the advanced courses.
User can also obtain training and best practice tips through Orchard’s online tutorials, user forums, and semi-annual user symposiums. “Our goal is to provide an avenue that meets [each] client’s needs to communicate with us,” Johnson says.
Customers are informed about Orchard’s various training opportunities by five regional account managers. These employees follow up with the company’s approximately 1,100 customers on a quarterly basis to ensure that a client’s Orchard Harvest LIS is meeting its needs and to keep abreast of changes in the lab, such as new staff members or computer systems, Johnson says.
“Instead of waiting for the client to call us and say they need something, we like to take a proactive approach and work with our clients on a consultant basis to make sure we’re providing what they need,” Johnson explains.
Encinitas, Calif.-based Hex Laboratory Systems takes a proactive approach as well. The company’s sales representatives routine-ly call on customers in person and by phone. During such visits or calls, it’s not that uncommon for customers to ask their sales reps for features that already exist on their system, says Susan Bol-linger, sales and marketing director for Hex.
Part of the problem is that lab users are busy and don’t have time to call the vendor, Bollinger continues. That is exactly why the proactive approach is so important, she adds.
“It really is about driving value,” says Mary Mieure, Sunquest’s director of client support services, “and having those regular discussions with clients to make sure they understand what is available to them and are taking advantage of it.”
Karen Wagner is a writer in Forest Lake, Ill.