Perspectives on Vendor/Healthcare Relationships: An HCE Original Report

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healthcareix-itunes-artworkRecently, HCE asked one vendor and one healthcare executive for their perspectives on the qualities of a healthy contractual partnership.

Here’s what they had to say:


The Vendor Perspective

Laura Jones, director of marketing for The Midland Group in Lawrence, Kan., a revenue-cycle services company that focuses on self-pay balances, has been in the healthcare business for over 20 years. Midland partners primarily with chief financial officers to help people with self-pay balances find a way in which they can satisfy their obligations to the hospital in a dignified manner.

She understands the plight of many CFOs and the difficulties they have in wading through 10 different vendors for the same services, especially when “some vendors are more respectful than others as far as their strategy of reaching decision-makers.”

She offered several personal observations on the qualities of a trustworthy vendor.

1. A trustworthy vendor will seek to form a relationship with you, striving to be your partner and understanding what your organization’s pain points are.

Jones uses the term “vulturize” to describe those vendors who are ready to pounce on an organization even if they’re not the best fit for that organization.

“Developing relationships with people based on common interests, not necessarily work-related interests, is important,” she said. “It comes back to providing value.”

The Midland Group commonly deals with such pain points as managing self-pay balances and improving self-pay cash flow, as well as Medicaid eligibility and short-term third-party billing engagements. When it doesn’t have a particular offering, Midland makes a point, Jones said, of referring organizations to other vendors who are a better fit in that area.

“We never want to make assumptions as to their challenges and come in with a canned solution,” she said. “We have to listen to those pain points, and if we aren’t in the position to offer an effective solution, I think we’re doing them a disservice by trying to shoehorn them into what we have to offer.”

2. A trustworthy vendor won’t waste your time.

Jones said The Midland Group’s marketing technology has never been more sophisticated, especially in the area of analytics. She respects the fact that many organizations have thoroughly researched the company prior to scheduling a sit down or a demo. To accommodate this research, the Midland website now tracks which pages users have looked at, how long they’ve spent on those pages, and if that same user comes back to the page. She said Midland is interested in what resonates with organizations about the company.

“What is that person interested in? We don’t bore them with something that they’re not,” she said. “We’re moving to be that value organization that can be the respected authority on topics that are of interest to the decision-maker rather than the watch salesman that opens his coat and has 50 different kinds of fake Rolexes.”

3. A trustworthy vendor is financially motivated to bring new and unique ideas to the customer.

For that reason, Jones said, it’s in the customer’s unique interest to set aside time to hear them, even if it’s just for 20 or 30 minutes.

“I think that would be beneficial to their operation,” she added. “Facilities that do this can stay on top of the new ideas, solutions, and technology that vendors bring to market, and if nothing else, they can leverage ideas to make existing vendor relationships more effective.”

The Healthcare Perspective

Shaun Collard, vice president of clinical operations at DaVita Kidney Care in Denver, Colo., has made it a point over his 14 years with the organization to form positive, uplifting relationships with vendors. In fact, he said, DaVita doesn’t even refer to its vendors as vendors.

Collard works with a broad group of companies from pharmaceutical brands to dialysis machine manufacturers to office suppliers.

He said these vendors informed him of their distaste for the vendor label. So DaVita gave them an opportunity to choose another label, and they collectively voted on Village Service Partners. Collard said this was in keeping with the spirit of DaVita’s culture, which emphasizes the village concept. For example, its chief executive officer is referred to as the mayor of the village.

Changing the label for its vendors changed the complexion and the attitude of DaVita’s relationship with them, Collard said.

1. Therefore, it’s important that your vendors not only embrace the culture of your organization, but that they also feel a part of it.

For the last 12 years, DaVita has hosted an annual strategy meeting with its VSPs that includes a Village Service Day as part of the line-up. Last year, 60 of the attendees, including VSPs and internal teammates, traveled to Loveland, Colo., an hour north of Denver, where they helped a troubled farmer dig out his farm implements and tools from a pumpkin patch over the course of three hours.

“There was just this camaraderie developed because we all served a common goal,” Collard said.

2. Inform your vendors on how they can better help the organization accomplish its goals.

Every year before the strategy meeting, Collard said DaVita submits a list of ideas and questions to its VSPs of ways in which they can improve their services to the organization.

“They feed us a lot of information,” he said. “Part of our culture is that we like to send forth ripples from our leadership. We think that’s an incredible opportunity for us to receive their input, but also for us to hopefully share back with them.”

In fact, the VSPs often take these ideas back to their respective companies as ways to improve products and services.

3. Do all you can to emphasize common needs and strive to make vendor relationships positive, not antagonistic.

Collard advises his colleagues to realize that vendors are much more than vendors. They’re partners who have incredible products designed to enhance your development as an organization.

“It would be difficult for us to do what we do daily without their participation and their care and their assistance,” he said. “All of this adds value to our vision of becoming the greatest healthcare community the world has ever seen.”

As healthcare executives, how do you approach your vendor relationships? How do you strive to make those partnerships productive and long-lasting?

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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