Finn Mathiesen, CMIO, MD,
Department of Radiology
Vejle Hospital – a part of
Hospital Group Lillebaelt
User groups have been an important part of my career in health IT. I work for a county hospital group that consists of five hospitals and about 1000 beds, which conducts about 400,000 medical imaging exams per year throughout the entire group. As a frequent user and administrator of these technologies, I need to be in the know of not only what updates are coming from the vendors I work with, but also how other customers are using the technologies. The culmination of these relationships between customer-vendor, and customer-customer, happens at user group meetings where the event turns into a hive of people looking not only to improve the product/service, but to learn from one another as well.
Throughout my time as a member of users groups and attending these events, I think there are two major advantages a customer can gain from participating, which I will address throughout the remainder of this post:
Collaboration: Working with other customers and the vendor(s) to develop new features/applications/products that address the customers’ needs
As an example, I have been using Carestream’s RIS for quite some time now. The tools needed in RIS must provide the user with fast functionality and provide the appropriate features for booking, scheduling, reporting, etc. and these need to be accomplished in very few clicks—this is information that must be accessible right away.
User group meetings are important for me as a RIS administrator because I can have a hand in influencing product developments to make sure that they are going in the right direction. What we see are that the meetings come up with suggestions that people want in their programs and not necessarily the same functions that all the regions want.
There is one important caveat that must be addressed among the users: there is always going to be a wide spectrum of needs that will be addressed and it is next to impossible to please every member in such a diverse group. Users from different countries will have various needs, and these will differ among organizations. Be it hospital, or small practice, or between public health systems and private hospitals, needs and development of programs will differ and not all issues can be solved.
Because of this, prioritization is a must at user group meetings. I have experienced such meetings where input was given, but nothing came to light. Situations such as this make it vital for attendees (both users and vendors) to sum up the major requests that everyone can agree on. Customers are never going to be happy if there is the collection of ideas, and then those are brought to development, but then the customers never hear about the ideas again. Questions start coming to mind: Are we going to have our requests fulfilled? When can we expect the updates? Are the vendors listening?
I can attest that users have the perspective that there is a path to development and we must coordinate our expectations to the vendor’s road-map for product and services. This makes it common practice to create a group statement from users about which features are needed the most. For example, by the end of the user group meeting, stating, “These are the five functions that are most important to us.”
As users, we believe that all of our requests and needs are equally important, but priority needs to be established, or else no plans will be put into action. At a meeting, user must get a consensus for programmers and get different options. For example: “Does everyone need this feature, or just the guys in NY?”
Networking: Meeting and speaking with other customers can allow one to learn features/processes that perhaps were not known before. Additionally, it is always good to meet others who have experienced similar situations so that collaboration can be more efficient and fulfilling.
Connecting with users from other Scandinavian countries allows me to learn valuable ideas, set ups, and ultimately learn from one another. We invite each other to look at set ups and see how things are done differently. For example, at the last user meeting in Sweden, I learned about functionalities from system administrators based in Danish Sealand Region that used some fancy tricks that we could use in our system. They taught us a work around that we haven’t thought about before. We met them, talked to each other, and learned a valuable new lesson. This is one of the most important benefits from networking at user group meetings.
When it comes to user group meetings it is clear that there are many positives that can come out not just being in attendance, but also making sure that users remain active in the user group through the remainder of the year. Face-to-face communication is always the best, but beginning and extending conversations online in the actual user group has the ability to make these events even more beneficial.