Building vs. Buying Laboratory Information Systems (LIS): Dispelling Some Common Myths
February 8, 2024
Why don’t we build a laboratory information system (LIS) rather than buying one from an established, commercial LIS company? After all, we can tailor the LIS software to meet all our lab’s specific, unique needs, and we can support it and make necessary changes with our in-house IT staff. Not only that, the LIS system will be much less expensive and we can also license it to other medical labs and generate revenue from it.
What’s wrong with this scenario?
“We can tailor the LIS software to meet all our lab’s specific, unique needs.”
I have a saying, “Labs are all the same …. except for the differences.”
While this is true to an extent, the differences are relatively small. Many years ago when commercially available LIS systems were limited in scope and complexity, specialized labs could justify “building their own.” However, over time, as commercial laboratory information systems became broader in scope and functionality, virtually every lab that had built a homegrown lab information system went on to convert to a vendor-produced LIS model.
Today, the best LIS software offers labs considerable flexibility in configuring to their specific needs. Usually, the “unique” needs are few and, worst case, can be accommodated by a few “specialized” programs or parameterizations.
“We can support the LIS system software and make any necessary changes with our in-house IT staff.”
This can be true for a while, assuming that the “in-house” medical LIS is very well documented (rarely the case) and that the lab’s key IT staff won’t “jump ship” for another job, leaving the lab without critical LIS system support.
Should knowledgeable LIS system staff leave, finding replacements who can understand the pathology lab software, as written, can be very difficult.
“Not only that, it will be much less expensive.”
As a former programmer and laboratory software system development manager, I can tell you that nothing is more underestimated than what it will take to develop a new laboratory information system.
The time to complete ranges from nearly twice as long as estimated to never (when the lab “throws in the towel” and gives up). Likewise, the personnel costs both in dollars and reduced IT support and services for other lab information system needs impact both lab finances and operations.
“We can also license it to other labs and generate revenue from it.”
This is a highly unlikely scenario. Any laboratory information system software built to meet the specific needs of a particular lab will more than likely not be a good fit for other labs, and some changes would have to be made, regardless. Unless the “homegrown” LIS system was built with inherent flexibility for change (rarely, if ever, done) all such changes would require programming rather than simple configuration parametrization.
Further, LIS system documentation would need to be thorough and understandable to the IT staff of the purchasing lab (again, unlikely). In addition, what level of support would your lab be able to provide the buying lab? You can be assured that there will be many questions and requests for help. Your IT staff would either have to expand (more cost) or be overwhelmed.
In olden times, when laboratory information systems were less flexible, less functional, and less cost-effective, “in-house” LIS software development might have been justifiable. Today, however, there are many established, reputable laboratory information system companies that can provide the functionality, service, support, and flexibility to cost-effectively meet the needs of labs of any size and complexity. Consider carefully the options for a new LIS system and make an informed choice.
Mr. Winsten (MS, FHIMSS, FCLMA) is president of Dennis Winsten & Associates., an independent healthcare information systems consulting firm with headquarters in Tucson, Arizona. He has over 40 years of computer experience including over 30 years in healthcare systems.