by adgrooms on March 3, 2020

Software solutions come in all shapes and sizes. Picking the right one involves time and effort to analyze all of the options. In healthcare, software performs many functions, from clinical to business applications. You want all of the software tools that you use to work well together, ideally sharing data seamlessly. In this post, we discuss a couple of software purchasing strategies aimed at achieving a comprehensive solution.

One way of categorizing options is monolithic versus specialized. A monolithic software system is a single, multi-function system, offering a lone, comprehensive solution. Specialized software is a focused solution that offers one key function. You can build a comprehensive solution by combining many specialized software selections. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches, depending on your needs.

Monolithic Solutions

First, there are monolithic solutions - individual software systems that perform multiple functions in a single interface. Some practice management software and EHR systems fall into this category. They can translate data across business functions and roles. For example, within some EHR systems, a physician can input observations and notes about patients, as well as, report billing information, send prescriptions, notify patients, and receive clinical decision support.

There are benefits to selecting a monolithic solution. It is simpler to purchase one solution. You have to go through a review and vetting process to analyze the benefits and costs of the solutions before you buy. This can be time-consuming when you are trying to solve multiple problems at once. The monolithic solution works best on functions that are not a core portion of your business, for example, an HR system that combines onboarding, payroll, and time tracking. You will also not have to spend time integrating multiple single-function software pieces. If you have technical issues, you only have to deal with one support team; however, support personnel for monolithic software are often specialized by business function and may be challenging to navigate.

But does it do everything well? A single large software solution rarely solves all problems well and often include components you will never need to use. If you can live with its strengths and its weaknesses, you have found a good solution. Monolithic software can seem like separate pieces of software, especially if the components aren't integrated well, or the UX doesn't feel fluid between activities. Monolithic software is also slow to evolve, because it is massive and complex, any change to the software has to be tested in light of all of the many features of the software. Monolithic systems have a reputation of not interfacing well with other solutions. Your options can be limited if there is another system that you need to use in tandem. They are motivated to make it difficult to use other software along with their system so that you are more inclined to use their system exclusively.

Specialized solutions

Specialized software solutions focus on a single business function but can be integrated to work with other solutions. An institution can mix and match individual solutions to perform together, essentially assembling a customized, comprehensive solution.

Specialized software typically follows the approach of doing one thing well. Companies that make this type of solution can put more resources into the key functionality of the software, like making the interface highly usable. Focused UX efforts can make specialized software easier to use. Another advantage is that due to their smaller size and focused features, they are improved and updated more frequently. Specialized solutions are more likely to remain state of the art. Because of their speed of change, they are better able to incorporate feedback from their users and partners.

The drawbacks of specialized software include switching between interfaces of different pieces of software that can disrupt workflows and lower efficiency. It is worth identifying if any team members will need to span multiple systems in their roles, in your assessment. Also, purchasing the highest quality of separate solutions can be more expensive than the monolithic all-in-one solution, especially if you are replacing every single component they offer. If, however, you need fewer features, a custom solution may cost less. Integration is an added expense that can vary depending on the complexity and size of the implementation. Another factor to consider is maintenance and support; however, this is minimized if the software has already developed partnerships and integrations or offers integration support. You may have to deal with various tech support teams at once if you have a problem that affects more than one piece of software.

If the shoe fits...

Compare the two approaches to buying running shoes. There is a big box store and across the street, a specialized running shoe store. You can purchase running shoes at the big box store, and at the same time, pick up your groceries, get an oil change, and take care of banking needs. The shoes you find there will probably meet your needs if you are a casual runner, plus you have the convenience of accomplishing other tasks in one place. If you are planning on running a marathon or racing in triathlons, you will want to go to the running shoe store. They will take your measurements and help you select a shoe that is tailored to who you are and how you run. In addition to the shoes, you may also shop at a specialized, health-focused grocery store. Hopefully, it is next door to the shoe store, but if not, your zebra-stripe sprint shoes will enable you to get there fast.

There are different approaches to putting together the right software solution, and the correct one is dependant on your needs. It is advantageous to do a thorough cost-benefit analysis and survey stakeholders on what they expect the software to do. Evaluate your existing software solutions. Do you want to keep them and integrate them with the new software? Or simplify and consolidate into one system? Consider the future. Will this still meet our needs in a few years? Can I add more functionality in the future?

With a little care and planning, you'll find the optimal choice.