George’s Corner: March/April 2013

Every year ComputerTalk publishes its buyers guide issue. It’s a good idea. (Notice how many more advertising pages are in this issue.) There are lots of comparison tables with lots of data to study and analyze. My comments are about the decision-making process and some things you should think about as you make a buying decision. 

Buying decisions are decisions about the future. Huge changes are about to occur in healthcare delivery and the systems that will be supporting it. Understand as much as you can about what is coming and know that any decisions that you make need to be compatible with that future and your role in that future.

Buyers: Remember that the sellers are probably also reading this.

First Things First

  • Make a list of things you like about the system you are 
now using. 
  • Make a list of things you don’t like about that system.
  • Make a list of features that you need in a new system. (I want a Ferrari, but I don’t need one to get to the grocery store.) 

Give each item on the list a value: A 10 for the absolute must-haves, a 1 for the nice/fun-to-haves. Do not do this alone. Involve the people who will be using it all of their working hours, as well as the managers and executives who want reports to analyze. The best way is to do it in a group meeting where everybody can contribute to the list and its items’ values. In a large organization this can be difficult because of the risk of the word getting out that you are thinking about changing. Protect against that by requiring confidentiality and having all participants sign a confidentiality document. I firmly believe that it is that important to include the folks who will be using the system on a day-to-day basis.

Remember, if the users don’t like the new system, it won’t work. For starters, they will spend too much time telling each other how bad it is. 

Compare your list to the lists of features found on the other pages of this issue of ComputerTalk. Go to the conventions and visit all the booths that are showing systems that are supposed to do the job. There are two things you need to learn at the booths. First, do you like the way the system works? Will it work in your pharmacy or pharmacies? Second, and most important, do you like the people? Talk to more than one of them. Do you like their attitude, their goals, and their philosophy regarding pharmacy services? Remember that you are buying people and services as well as hardware and software.

Narrow it down to two or three (maximum four) likely competitors. Then invite them to visit you to show you their systems. When they visit, include your actual users in the demonstrations. Remember, they are the ones who have to live with your decision. Let them test the system under circumstances as real as you can create. Look out for the brief waits while the system is working on something. The 10- or 15-second waits are very annoying to the user. The salesperson will know when they are going to happen and will start talking to distract you while the system is delayed. Make the salesperson stay silent during demos. 

Narrow it down to two, if possible, and visit pharmacies that are using those systems. Take a good pharmacy technician with you. Keep the decision-maker at that pharmacy busy while your technician talks with their technician about the system they are using. The decision-makers will always justify their decisions; the technicians will divulge its shortcomings. Make sure you and your technicians ask about service issues as well as system features and shortcomings. 

That should narrow it down to one or two possibilities. Now you are ready to bargain with the seller. Now it is time to talk about costs. Make sure any contract that you look at has all matters considered. Be sure to include help desk availability, training, and transition assistance, as well as any financial issues your lawyers may come up with.

Make a decision. Do not let analysis paralysis happen. Too often decision-makers get so tied up in analysis that they never make a decision, even if that decision is to not do anything. Then tell everybody who has been involved what was decided. Procrastination just consumes energy that should be used for other things. 
If a change is going to be made, tell everybody about the change as soon as possible. By this time many will know about what is going on and they will start coming up with the worst-case scenarios. That’s human nature. Tell your staff the good things that are going to happen.

When my oldest son was in grammar school he was asked what he would change if he could change anything. His answer was “If I could change anything I would change it so that no one could change anything because it always upsets someone else.” It is a human thing to resist change. Be prepared for that resistance.

Good luck. Enjoy the experience of being an agent of change. CT 

George Pennebaker, Pharm.D., is a consultant and past president of the California Pharmacists Association. He can be reached by email at