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Six Steps for Great Healthcare IT Vendor Relationships

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Is your IT ‘partner’ acting like a one-night stand? Challenge them to commit to a strategic relationship and be ready to move on if they don’t.

It’s not hard to tell when your vendor relationship has gone south. You’ll know it’s broken when they become unresponsive, miss deadlines, feed you one-size-fits-all solutions, and tell you ‘no’ more often than ‘yes.’ The challenge at that point is to figure out how to fix the issue… and whether it’s worth it.

Ask your vendor whether they’re interested in a short-term, transactional relationship that only benefits them, or whether they want a long-term, strategic relationship that benefits both of you. The steps below will help you navigate these waters.

The Cost of Transactional Relationships

Transactional relationships are fine in retail settings like hardware stores that sell commodity products. They make no sense when the stakes are higher than hammers. Healthcare IT partners support critical hospital systems such as point-of-care technology, patient information portals, learning systems, and more. When these systems fail, it can negatively impact patients and your staff. The high cost of these assets and their integration with other systems can make it tough to walk away from a vendor.

Vendors understand this, and many count on it to keep a hospital’s business even when they know the relationship is on thin ice. They depend on the customer’s sunk cost, the fear, time, and money required to exit, and the loss of continuity by starting over anew.

Hospitals Should Seek Strategic Relationships

A strategic relationship is the direct opposite of a transactional one. The customer’s investment in the vendor remains significant, and switching is still risky. In this scenario, however, the vendor sees that their own success is directly related to their customer’s success.

Use the six guideposts below to evaluate whether your IT healthcare consultant is transactional or strategic. If they’re not making the grade, challenge them to support you as a true strategic partner, and use these standards to help communicate your expectations to them. Don’t be afraid to let them know that if you don’t see a change, you’re willing to move on.

1. Response time. When seconds count, accessibility can’t be minutes away. You need fast decision-making, so having a single point of contact who shares your sense of urgency is important. You should be able to reach your rep directly and expect a call back quickly. Ideally, it should be a senior manager engaged in your business; someone with a steady presence who knows your operation, not a new face introduced every 12 months.

2. Trust. Your healthcare IT partner should have a proven track record and treat your business like their own. They should be vendor agnostic with no contractual or financial ties to a single supplier. They should have broad experience working across all platforms and technologies. A good partner invests in learning what drives their customer’s business, focuses on their needs, understands and respects their operation, and recommends the best healthcare IT solutions, not just the ones that boost their commission.

3. Storage. If space is tight, look for a partner willing to store your IT equipment safely. A good one will have warehousing, technology, and staging facilities that serve as central sites for storing your hardware, devices, equipment, parts, and other IT-related materials, as well as provide strategic inventory management, workspace for custom configuration, and launch points for delivery services.

4. Value-Building Customization. Your hospital is unique, so many off-the-shelf products aren’t a perfect fit. A good partner is expected to understand your workflow, recommend best-of-breed products, and tailor them to fit. Behind the scenes, your rep should be speaking directly with manufacturers to identify the best IT solutions for your specific use case. This service alone can save you days on every project. You should feel confident that the solution they recommend delivers robust product functionality, excellent service, and world-class price.

5. Flexibility. Your technology partner’s top goal should be to help you solve problems. Good partners will prove this through flexibility. Do you need to make a last-minute change to the amount or destination of a shipment of medical carts? It’s not an ideal situation, but a good partner will try to accommodate you instead of immediately defaulting to ‘no.’ Likewise, if your partner provides support and your agreement only covers sites A, B, and C, but you have an emergency at site D, you’re a lot more likely to get assistance from a strategic, relationship-building partner than one that is transactional.

6. Extended warranties. A strategic partner will offer extended warranty options that lock in favorable terms and pricing and extend the useful life of your hardware beyond what the manufacturer will offer. They should target fast break-fix resolution by setting up an equipment maintenance and management plan and parts inventory on your site that extends the value and utility of your assets, increases ROI, and reduces total cost of ownership.

A strategic relationship demands much from your vendor, but it’s in their best interest to step up. Those who accept this model realize its mutual benefits and earn a long-term relationship, knowing the customer will count on them as a trusted advisor.

What If They Say “No”?

Many vendors are not wired for strategic relationships and remain captive to the short-term mindset, particularly big, established brands where accountability becomes more distributed and harder to define. As the saying goes, that’s their problem. Complacency will cost you more in the long run. Ask yourself, “How much faster will I reach that goal with a partner who’s really vested in helping me get there?” Only those vendors committed to supporting your success should succeed.

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