College of American Pathologists
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cap today



November 2006

Feature Story

Raymond Aller, MD

Don’t be foolhardy and fall for flashy features and functions when shopping for a laboratory information system. Focus instead on satisfaction: Will I be satisfied with the support I receive from the LIS vendor? Can I be fairly certain that the LIS will fit with my business plan?

You can add functions and features later or adapt capabilities that are already in your LIS. Database platform and operating environment as well should not be selection criteria.

Likewise, avoid vendors offering splashy demonstrations and grand promises. A few years ago, a medical group on the West Coast selected a system based on an impressive demonstration, a persuasive sales force, promises of modern software and database architecture, and claims that the system was operating smoothly in several organizations. Unfortunately, no one in the medical group called system users to ask probing questions. The group subsequently signed a contract for the system and then, over the next two years, came to the conclusion that the software was vaporware. The group ended up pouring several million dollars down the drain and, in the process, severely disillusioned or alienated its partner organizations and clients.

This example illustrates the need to ask a prospective vendor for a complete list of clients and their telephone numbers. If the vendor won’t comply because of confidentiality issues or for other reasons, then don’t use that company. Once a vendor provides you with a client list, call several of those organizations, where feasible focusing on those clients that most closely match the size and complexity of your lab. Ask the vendor’s clients if the company responds to phone calls promptly and addresses problems in a reasonable time frame. Recognize, however, that every vendor probably has a few dissatisfied clients, so don’t dismiss a vendor based solely on a few negative comments. Weigh those comments against positive feedback about the vendor.

To address the recurrent question, How do I know if a vendor gears most of its business to large or small laboratories? CAP TODAY added new questions to its 2006 LIS lineup on pages 26 to 62. One such question asks vendors if they market primarily to high- or low-volume labs. (The definitions of high- and low-volume are provided at the bottom of each survey page.) Similarly, the survey asks how many billed tests the vendor’s installations generate annually. Combined, these questions can help a laboratory quickly hone in on those vendors most likely to meet its needs.

CAP TODAY also asked vendors how many contracts were signed and went live during a recent 12-month period. Responses to this question can indicate whether a vendor is actively marketing its LIS or primarily focusing on its existing customer base.

The data presented on the following pages are based entirely on vendors’ responses to a written questionnaire. We urge readers to verify the information provided before purchasing a system.

Dr. Aller is director of bioterrorism preparedness and response for Los Angeles County Public Health Acute Communicable Diseases. He can be reached at

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