7 Benefits for Fire Departments Replacing an RMS

Firefighters planning to replace an RMS
Fire departments have been required to track records around patient care, fire incidents, and personnel for decades, but changes in regulatory requirements and available technology have driven RMS technology to rapidly evolve.

Fire departments have been required to track records around patient care, fire incidents, and personnel for decades, but changes in regulatory requirements and available technology have driven records management systems to rapidly evolve. Unfortunately, not all vendors have responded to these changes with viable solutions, and more and more fire departments are looking for the opportunity to replace their existing applications with a new solution. Though there is always risk involved in switching software, there are many benefits worth considering when replacing your RMS.

These next two posts will take fire departments through the opportunities and risks of switching records management software. First, we will discuss the benefits that best-of-breed RMS applications are delivering now. The second post will discuss some best practices to help guide vendor selection activities which will prepare you to mitigate the risks for an RMS initiative.

The Increasing Value of Innovative Records Management Systems

A lot has changed in the last ten or fifteen years, in terms of NEMSIS and NFIRS requirements, but also technology. It no longer makes sense for firefighters to be constrained to perform all incident reporting at one terminal per department. Fire agencies and the public want accurate, instant reports and data; the expectation is that data should be free to flow seamlessly to and from the field.

Another factor is reporting and analytics, having a deeper look into what your department is doing, personnel, incidents, how many incidents and what type. From the EMS side, it can be making sure your paramedics are correctly tracking narcotics in ambulances or making sure you have an accurate record of what was used and for what patient. Old RMS was incapable of facilitating these tasks, which are now a part of the job. Also, fire leaders increasingly feel a duty to provide richer reporting to their constituents and governing bodies but they struggle to get meaningful data from their legacy applications.

The cloud has made solutions to these problems relatively simple to execute. RMS with mobile functions allows data input and output from anywhere, anytime. This means mobilized reporting, real-time tracking, the ability to deliver critical information to firefighters in the field as well as fill out reports, inspections or patient care data while still in the field.

RMS vendors that have kept pace with fire departments’ changing needs are in an increasingly valuable position, whereas others that have not adapted are increasingly antiquated by comparison, from a security standpoint, from a compliance standpoint, and from a technology standpoint.

7 Benefits of Replacing RMS for Fire Departments

RMS vendors have evolved rapidly, particularly in the last ten or fifteen years. Increasingly efficient, accurate, intuitive systems have gained critical capabilities around complex NEMSIS regulations for patient care reporting while providing hospital data exchange capabilities. Rostering options, fleet maintenance, life safety and inventory are also increasingly more available with richer functionality along with mobile capability. Records management systems have evolved into a complex, enterprise-wide tool — an ERP for fire departments.

If your RMS vendor has not kept pace, the benefits of switching can be considerable.

  1. Advanced Patient Care Reporting — When you have older tools and less information, you are limited in the service you can provide. Innovative RMS vendors are even bringing instant access to patient histories, so fire departments can see if you or anyone in your department has interacted with the patient before in real-time. Then your team is armed with all the information it needs to make the right decisions. Also gone are the days of handing off a paper record at the hospital emergency room of the care given in the field. The most forward-thinking vendors have electronic data transfer capabilities right from the paramedic’s mobile device that can be imported right into the hospital’s electronic patient records system, saving time and preventing errors by having accurate patient information instantly.
  2. Mobile Access — On a busy day, firefighters come back to the station at the end of the shift, and spend 3-4 hours doing reports on overtime when they could have been doing that on the apparatus on the way back to the station. New RMS unlocks mobile access so officers can finish reports from anywhere, anytime.
  3. Efficient Incident Tracking — Whereas older RMS might require 15-30 minutes to fill out an incident report on average and 45 minutes to an hour for more complex reports, the newer systems reduces those standard report times to 5-7 minutes, freeing up firefighters and paramedics to do more value-added activities.
  4. Accurate Incident Tracking — When you’re writing something down on a notepad or glove or a piece of tape, there’s a very large chance of losing some of that information. Newer systems can capture what actually happened with features like time tracking, time stamping, taking information directly from the system, as well as pre-populating data, so your personnel can focus more on their jobs rather than tracking each of those pieces of information while on scene.
  5. Easier to Use — Modern vendors have made significant steps forward in user experience. Their RMS is designed to walk personnel through the process, as opposed to being complex, counterintuitive, or difficult to understand. Knowing what to put into reports is one of the biggest challenges for personnel.
  6. Rostering — New applications can automatically call backup when someone is out sick; they can rank replacements; they respond to the complexities of managing firefighters who are on shifts 24-48 hours long, reorganizing the roster while maintaining compliance with training requirements, as well as tracking vacation and sick time.
  7. Venture Capital Backing — Software companies who have attracted financing have been pre-vetted by savvy investors. This is a tell-tale sign that the product will continue to keep pace with research and development so the next time an industry metric changes, the software vendor will be able to redevelop the product to keep up with newer standards.

Best-of-Breed RMS Solutions Will Deliver Maximum Benefits

The RMS market is still maturing. And no one vendor currently has a solution that is comprehensive with ideal functionality across all business areas. And because every fire department is different, it is common for departments to select a strategic combination of best-of-breed applications to provide critical department functions while minimizing integrations and ultimately data silos. Ideally, the right combination of applications will bring together the department’s patient care data, incidents, rosters and personnel so data can be managed and accessible to stakeholders across the organization with easy access and reliability.

If your fire department is interested in potentially switching RMS vendors, this article has hopefully helped you to more fully understand why a switch could be the best decision.

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Juliette Welch: Hi everyone, thanks so much for joining us for today's call: What to do When You Need to Replace Your Records Management System.

One of our speakers for today is Shawn Windle. Shawn is the Founder and Managing Principal of ERP Advisor Group based in Denver, Colorado.

ERP Advisors Group is one of the country's top independent enterprise software advisory firms. ERP Advisors Group advises mid to large sized businesses on selecting and implementing business applications from enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, human capital management, business intelligence, and other enterprise applications which equate to millions of dollars in software deals across many industries each year.

Quentin Dewitt will also be a speaker on today's call. Quentin has been in the information technology business for over 20 years. He has led teams as an IT director, brought innovative products to the marketplace as a product manager, and led large teams as a director of technical support.

Today, he provides leadership and guidance to our consulting team through a wide variety of technical knowledge, experience, and skills. He manages the ERP Advisors Group team on needs analysis, software selection, and implementation services for our fire department clients including their RMS, scheduling, CAD, logistics, HR payroll, and life safety.

On today's call, Shawn and Quentin will discuss the key factors you need to consider for an RMS replacement project, learn how inefficient RMS can make your department run more smoothly and help ease your job through complete and accurate reporting, staff and equipment management, and streamline daily operations.

Shawn, may I introduce you?

Shawn Windle: Sure, thanks Juliette. And can you hear me okay?

Juliette: Yes, I can.

Shawn: Perfect. Okay, good. Thanks everybody for being on the call. I'm super excited to do our discussion today.

We have Quentin from our team who's on the call who's really been involved in — gosh, I think about five seconds ago he just left one of the fire departments that we're working with in the Denver area. So, he's very engaged with our clients in handling a whole multitude of records management systems issues.

So, what we're going to do today is I'll give a little bit of an overview of RMS just so we all kind of understand a little bit of what we're talking about specifically related to fire, and then I'll have some questions for Quentin.

And Quentin, if you're on the line, I'd love it if you can answer those questions if you’re there and ready to go.

Quentin Dewitt: Oh yeah, yes, I definitely am and I'm looking forward to it.

Shawn: Okay, good. So, then to start with, when you need to replace your RMS — now when we talk about RMS today, we're really referring to fire. There's multiple kinds of records management systems for police, the jail management systems, RMS systems for other kinds of municipalities and government agencies.

But today we're talking about fire departments, whether they're a part of a city or they're a separate organization or it's an inner government agreement between multiple organizations. Really very departments across the board.

And records management system means exactly that, right? Traditionally, fire departments have been regulated and required to track records around patient care reporting as well as fire incident reporting and reporting that up through basically the national systems that aggregate all those records.

And that's where RMS started. But then over the last, you know 15 years or so — maybe ten years — the systems have evolved to include a heck of a lot more than just those core records to also include tasks around public safety and employee records and scheduling records and going across the organization of the fire department to bring together all of the records of the fire department into one system called an RMS.

We've seen a lot of that and there's been some trends that Quentin I think is going to talk to here that have led away from there being one centralized RMS to maybe more best of breed applications where you have different functions or different applications provide different functions across the department.

So, a lot of changes happening in this industry and maybe what we'll do here, Quentin, is we'll jump into the questions with that context of what an RMS.

Quentin: Yes, sure I can definitely give you a little bit of information on that.

Shawn: Sure, so here's the first question for you: so, what is an RMS in today's technology environment?

Quentin: Well, as you mentioned, traditionally RMS was just for NFIRS or “niffers” as they called, which is a National Fire Incident Reporting System and for patient care reports which is governed by NEMSIS compliance and such.

And originally this was done on paper and then as computer technology came into it, it started being tracked within a records management system that just kept track of those incidents, the details of the incidents that met with the code, and what fire incident type it was or what medical incident type it was.

And as technology has advanced, more and more got added to these RMS systems so they stopped just recording the fire incidents and the PCR and they expanded out to try to track all of the personnel and their training records.

It started tracking from different levels of compliance for the more complex HIPAA regulations and keeping patient care information secure. And it really has evolved into a very complex enterprise-wide type tool and a lot of specialty functions as well, because not every software system can do everything, or at least not do it well.

So, with the addition of more complex NEMSIS requirements for your EMS service, if you're doing transport, if you're doing ALS which is — most agencies we are finding out are heading in that direction, you find yourself with a greater need for flexibility for mobility for being able to do your reports from the station or from the apparatus or from home even potentially if you weren't able to do it while you're at the station.

So, there's a lot of flexibility in the evolving needs, even things like fleet management are being incorporated into RMS structure now and software packages or training curriculum. And those are in turn integrated into the personnel profile so that your officers — you can verify that their training is intact, their training history, that they have all of their needed medical training to be a paramedic, for instance.

And it's right there in the same system with easy access. Much less having the right apparatus man for that station for that shift and what all of their certifications are so that they — you know you have everyone you need and it's very easy to manage and organize in the current technology of RMS systems.

Shawn: Perfect thanks, Q.

And by the way, for those of you that are on the call, we'll do a transcript of the call and we'll make that available to you. Just make sure to get back in touch with us, and Juliette will give you some information at the end of the call on how to get how to get that information.

So, because you're — as you can tell — we really do have a lot of capability here which is really helpful to clients on what an RMS is. So, thank you, Q, for that background.

Now here's really the crux of the call. So, why do fire agencies and departments change RMS — like what drives that whole process?

Quentin: Well, there are a lot of factors that drive that process, but one of the main factors is that with the changing of compliance specifically for transporting agencies on the NEMSIS side, the older tools can't keep up with the changing requirements.

So, one of the main factors is just being able to meet those new requirements from what is required within a report.

Another very important point is mobile access. A lot of these tools were originally built to be handled from a single computer at the station, and that's no longer in today's technology world of fast access, something that's really feasible for a lot of departments.

And so having access from your mobile device — from your smart device, from your MDT and the apparatus, from your laptop, or wherever you happen to be. That's a very important factor, and the older applications can't keep up with that from a technology standpoint or from a security standpoint of just making sure that while you're accessing that data it's secure.

So those are a couple of them, and another factor is really reporting and analytics and having a deeper look into what your department’s doing

All the different personnel, the incidents that will run, what area they were run in, how many incidents of what type. From the medical side in the EMS, making sure that your procedures — that your paramedics and your fire medics are doing are correct. Tracking of narcotics and your ambulances and making sure that you have an accurate record of what was used and what haul it was used on and for what patient.

So, all of those things are reasons that departments are changing their RMS because older systems just aren't keeping up with that demand that the current society has. And the department and the public in general want to have accurate and detailed incident reports and data as to what occurred.

Shawn: Perfect, that makes a ton of sense.

So, there's clear reasons why a department would change, but it's pretty scary when you think about a good-sized department, even the small size department or large it really doesn't matter, of making a significant change here on the software that impacts not just every single person in the organization, but it could impact even the quality of service if there's a problem.

So, there's got to be some real benefits here to making a change.

So, Quentin, from your perspective, what benefits do you see departments get when they make an RMS change?

Quentin: Well, there are a number of instant benefits. The first and probably most important, which is really just providing better service from the fire and EMS side.

When you're having older tools and you have less information to operate off of, you really are limited in the service you're able to provide, the response time, really making sure that you know your patients potentially or your locations.

And some of the newer tools are bringing benefits such as patient history, where you can see if you or anyone in your department has interacted with that patient before.

Or some of the other benefits are things like mobile access and faster access to the data so that you're not on a really busy day and your staff or your officers or coming back to the station at the end of the shift and having to spend three- or four-hours doing reports on overtime when they could have been doing that on the apparatus, potentially on the way back to the station if it was quick and efficient.

So, there's the efficiency and the speed which these incidents be entered where it may with your current RMS be taking 15-30 minutes to fill out an incident report — sometimes for complex EMS reports, it may even take 45 minutes to an hour.

I've heard these tales many times and with some of the new systems, the benefits they're seeing are reducing those standards 15-30 minute report time to five to seven minutes. So really reducing the amount of time it takes and making it much more efficient.

Also, the accuracy of tracking incidents when you're writing something down during an incident on a notepad or on your glove or on a piece of tape — I've heard all sorts of ways of tracking the information for when working with the patient or doing something with fire. There's a very large chance of losing track of some of that information.

Maybe it gets lost, maybe it’s illegible — and with current software some of the benefits are just accuracy. Really capturing what actually happened, who did it, when it happened, time tracking, time stamping, getting direct information right into the system, and prepopulating portions of the reports, so that your personnel can really concentrate on doing their jobs rather than having to track each one of those particular pieces of information while on scene.

And the software in general has become much easier to use. It's more designed from a streamlined fashion to walk your personnel through the process rather than being very complex and hard to understand which I've heard many times that just knowing what to put into the report is one of the hardest things to do.

So that's another benefit. Another benefit is just the individuals themselves being able to reorganize their schedule.

Firefighters are on shifts that are usually 24 to 48 hours long at a time and getting in your vacation, getting in your time off, if there's someone sick, reorganizing scheduling and the roster, tracking those personnel. There's just a lot of efficiency that is now available with new applications because they can on the fly just automatically call back up people who are on call for overtime. If someone’s out sick or they need a shift filled it can rank them.

There's all sorts of benefits that can be seen from just the personnel scheduling and the rostering side with this new technology.

And the other really large benefit they're gaining is the platforms are ready for the future. Some of the older platforms are just not evolving; they're not taking up the new needs of departments and their technology that they're currently using the integration.

But the new software platforms and changing to a new platform — they are designed for the future. They're designed for mobility, security, and speed, so those are just some of the benefits you could gain from changing your RMS.

Shawn: Perfect, that makes a ton of sense.

Yeah, okay and I think it's important to mention here too that from a business model, right? Quentin, from an ERP advisors — ERP is enterprise resource planning — and that's the software that organizations use to run their business.

So, an example of an ERP for fire is RMS. So, why don't you take a minute here and talk to how the objective model of ERP Advisors works so that when we have clients that are considering changing software and we believe that there's benefits — sometimes the benefits aren't there — and how that changes our advice to our clients. Maybe you can talk a little bit to that.

Quentin: Certainly, yeah, definitely. So, our process is — really what we start off with is the fact that every department is different. You have similar needs, you have some other things that you're doing, but every department is not the same and your needs can vary greatly. As well as the tools you're currently operating off of.

So, what we do generally is when we come in the door and work with a client, we first off we know your industry and we understand the things that you're going through and the way you have to operate in order to accomplish those needs.

But we do an analysis of your organization. We don't just jump straight into, oh, let's get you a new software tool. And let's dump some money into buying this because it looks pretty — we actually recommend don't look at any applications to begin with. Don't run off and look at all the websites.

There are well over 70 different RMS applications out there and knowing which one’s right for you is confusing if you haven't done the proper steps.

So, what we start off with is really analysis of your department, your organization, your authority, and how you operate.

And we really find out what the pain points are, what problems you're experiencing with your current RMS, as well as what the risks are and what the benefits are for changing that. Because sometimes it's too risky to change.

But without doing that analysis we really don't have that answer and we wouldn't give you a recommendation like, oh, you should definitely change your RMS without really taking a look.

And even once we have established that maybe the change is right for you — if we have established that — then we have a very procedural way of determining what's right for that.

We don't just go and look at all the RMS packages that are out there and go, that one looks pretty, or that one really fixes one problem. We look at it across the board. We design a document which has all of your requirements in it and then we go through a process of finding the software packages that specifically meet those tools — those requirements — with their tool set.

So, we go down that full list. We do smaller demonstrations with each tool to see if it also fits with your organizations, sort of the general outlook on the tool if it's — your firefighters can understand it, it's easy to use and understand from an interface perspective that the vendor really understands you as an organization rather than just, here's our software package and here's the pricing.

So, we go through it, and we call out the ones that really don't align with your standard practices, your general operation basis. Then we go to the next step, which is once we've weeded out what you don't want, we have a few left that are very close to what you need.

And we really go through those. We do full demonstrations of the tool. We make sure that it meets every single one of your needs or how it can meet that or what we can do to fill that gap if there is a gap so that we have absolute certainty at the end of that process that we have the right software tool and that it will fix all of your problems and fill all of your needs.

Once that's done, we don't stop. We actually take it from there and we really work with you as the fire department and as the client from your side to work with your new software vendor to put it in place as you need it.

Because by that time we're well aware of all of your needs inside and out. We understand how you operate and how that differs from the department next door. And we work with you and the vendor to make sure that the software goes into place as you need it because we have a lot of experience with software vendors.

We have a lot of experience with implementing software and we know the caveats and the pitfalls that come up in these software implementations and how to get by them.

We know the things to put in place and how to help you through the process. Because we're software experts. And in general, firefighters and fire departments aren't, so that's another thing we bring to the table.

Does that answer your question, Shawn?

Shawn: That's perfect, yeah, thank you.

Yeah, and I think it's important that while software vendors will rightfully sell the benefits of their solutions, it doesn't always make sense to implement new apps. There's lots of considerations I think Quentin talked a lot about some of the benefits that you should expect.

But because every organization is different, like you said Quentin, we need to make sure that it makes sense before you go to market and buy software.

But let's say here, maybe the last question to you here is what recommendations do you have to departments and agencies that are looking at considering changing RMS systems?

Quentin: Well, one of the primary recommendations is don't call software vendors first off. That is probably the first thing to do is don't call software vendors, don't get into being sold a software product at the beginning.

And the next is that you should really determine for you what your needs are, how you differ from other departments, if you have budget for it — start planning those sort of activities.

Another thing is to really get your current data in a very clean format so that you probably have a current RMS system and you have data in that system, and most likely you're going to need to either keep that data or migrate it to a new system. So having that in good shape and ready to move over to something new is a big factor.

And often one of the biggest factors in moving to a new system is knowing how you're going to handle your historical records.

And also be willing to look at the future. That's another thing departments often miss is they're looking at their current needs, what's going on today. But we would highly recommend looking to the future and understanding the growth that you're going to experience and the changes that you're going to experience over the next few months and years and as well as how you're going to keep up with that as a department.

And then always just be willing to look for some help if you need it.

And that's one of the things is you can call us and you can set up a quick free call to just speak with us, go over what the options are, and what we might recommend. We can answer your questions and just tell you what we would — what we think might be a good option for you.

Shawn: Right, okay. Thank you. Well, really appreciate your time today and your insights again on what to do when you want to replace your RMS.

It's a daunting process. It's very doable, and there are lots of benefits to get out of that.

So, thank you, Quentin, for your insights, we appreciate it.

Quentin: You're welcome, happy to do it.

Shawn: Yep, and Juliette, why don't we pass back to you to close us out.

Juliette: Sure, great, thank you, Shawn. Thank you, Quentin. That was a lot of important information. We appreciate your time.

Thank you again everyone for joining us for today's call. And as Shawn had mentioned previously, we will have a transcript of the call. And if you were interested you can call us, email us, and we'll be happy to get that to you.

If you have any questions, same thing, email us or call us.

Our next call is Demystifying the ERP Selection Process. On Tuesday, May 8th, we will discuss running a rigorous selection process that will ensure you choose the right software for your needs. Thanks again for joining us today and please go to erpadvisorsgroup.com for more details and we will see you next time. Thank you.