The Real Value of Electronic Solutions-Connecting Dissimilar Systems
Efficiency and error reduction are two of the most often discussed "values" of electronic solutions. Experience and empirical data support these as two of the most important benefits. However, the increasing propensity with which small to medium sized businesses purchase multiple electronic solutions has drastically amplified the need for exchanging data between systems. The data exchange software is commonly referred to as a database interface or simply and an interface. Let's add "interface" to our list of important benefits of electronic solutions.
Simply stated an interface provides for data sharing between computer systems that improves access to valuable information while reducing the number of times a given data element needs be entered manually. Ideally there will be a single entry point for each data item and it will be available electronically to any authorized user.
End users who do not have or cannot access a database interface are confronted with uncertainty in the integrity of their data, unavailability of some information, duplication of data entry effort, limited choices when purchasing new systems and overall higher costs for automation.
Resellers are faced with decisions about which product lines to sell and support. Some dissimilar systems "talk to each other" via an interface and others do not. Resellers who embrace "connected" products or are willing to find an interface for their clients achieve higher profits and increased customer loyalty thus insuring ongoing revenue for years to come.
Data can be accurately and efficiently exchanged between dissimilar systems. If you are told an interface is not available for your particular requirement, call a peer in your reseller community or contact a consultant.
Some pitfalls to be wary of include what I call nested or chained interfaces. An example is a PMS (Practice Management System) that is interfaced to an EMR (Electronic Medical Record System). The EMR is designated as the system of record. Subsequently a lab system is integrated into the mix and it is linked to the PMS for demographics and insurance information. On the surface this arrangement looks okay because the data from the EMR is interfaced to the PMS and thus is available to the lab system. In most cases this will produce reasonable results. However, there is a data integrity problem. The lab system is dependant upon accurate data from the PMS which is not maintained as the system of record and therefore its data integrity is questionable. When errors get into the PMS, they are less likely to be found and/or corrected than errors in the EMR because the EMR is the functioning system of record and everyone is paying attention to it.
The same example could also have a timing problem if the EMR-to-PMS interface is performed daily and the lab-to-PMS interface is on-demand or real time. Information in the PMS cannot be depended upon as current or it may be missing. An example is a new patient whose information is waiting for the once-a-day transfer of data from the EMR to the PMS.
Other examples can be cited but this is sufficient for our discussion.
The exchange of data between dissimilar systems is increasingly the option chosen to solve problems heretofore solved by unnecessarily replacing dissimilar systems with a "fully integrated" solution. While resellers may prefer to sell the "integrated solution" because it means more revenue, the cost to the end user becomes high enough that the sale is often lost. A long term customer and a nice revenue stream fall by the wayside.
A carefully thought out interface, based on defined business rules and practices will eliminate duplicated data entry and all its associated errors; it will significantly improve efficiency; it will provide a superior audit trail and backup copies of data in multiple locations (systems).
The cost of an interface is minimal when compared to the cost of needlessly replacing a functioning system. The cost of a new system has to include training, data conversion, depreciating productivity while the staff comes up to speed on the new system and the loss of at least some data.
The real value of electronic solutions can grow exponentially when critical data functions are automated and inter-connected via reliable database interfaces. Besides efficiency and error reduction, you can expect better customer relations, ease of data exchange with external computer systems and the bottom line-improved profits.
The door is truly open for implementing other workplace improvements such as the paperless (meaning less dependency on paper not the elimination of paper), employees working from home or other locations and other improvements yet to be developed.
Information is power-if you can depend on its availability, accuracy and timeliness.
Next: Electronic Data Conversions vs. "Starting a New System from Scratch"
Technology Consultants, Inc.