John Erwin is the Chief Executive Officer at Carenet Health.
When you think of the word “vendor,” what comes to mind? You’ll likely think of a transactional relationship in which one organization or entity sells goods or services to another. While these kinds of vendor relationships may work in other industries, partnerships that are merely transactional can ultimately be unfruitful for health systems and healthcare organizations.
Partnerships can be a great way to drive revenue and increase speed to market, but health leaders should be mindful to avoid some common pitfalls, such as lack of long-term strategic planning and accountability.
To operate at their best, healthcare organizations need to partner with vendors that are knowledgeable about the industry, entrenched in the mission of improving patient care and ready to engage in an ongoing partnership. In other words, they need to partner with companies that can be strategic consultants first and vendors second.
The Value Of Strategic Partnerships
Healthcare providers face complex financial, workforce and regulatory challenges and require strategic guidance to navigate the evolving healthcare landscape effectively. Unlike a vendor that is simply a provider of specific products or services, strategic consultants offer broader expertise and insights that go beyond a single solution.
Consultants leverage data and industry expertise to identify and solve gaps for healthcare organizations, creating a foundation to build upon with technology solutions. Partners that can play the dual role of vendor and consultant can fill several critical and often-overlooked needs for hospitals and health systems. Prioritize the following when looking for a strategic consultant:
Needs assessment: Vendor partners that don’t understand the needs of your organization and the gap they can fill are unlikely to be strong investments. The best vendors are not solely motivated by selling their own products or services but rather aim to understand the organization’s unique needs and recommend solutions that align with its goals and objectives.
Alignment with strategic goals: Partnering with vendors that can act as consultants first can go a long way to accomplishing healthcare organizations’ long-term goals, whether that’s improving patient outcomes, increasing operational efficiency or enhancing the patient experience. Partners who prioritize tactical consulting build long-term relationships with hospitals and health systems. They become trusted advisors who understand the organizations’ evolving needs and can adapt their recommendations accordingly. This ongoing partnership facilitates continuous improvement, innovation and a collaborative problem-solving approach.
Cost analysis: Vendor consultants can conduct cost-benefit analyses to determine the financial impact of implementing their solutions. They can evaluate not only the initial investment but also the long-term costs associated with maintenance, training and potential upgrades. This analysis helps healthcare organizations make informed decisions about the financial viability of engaging with a new company.
Change management: Implementing new solutions often requires significant organizational change. Strategic vendor partners can assist in developing change management plans to ensure a smooth transition. They can help identify potential barriers, engage stakeholders, and develop plans for training, communication and workflow redesign.
Holistic approach: Consultative partners take the time to thoroughly understand the healthcare organization’s current state, challenges and goals. They go beyond a transactional relationship and develop a deep knowledge of the organization, its workflows and its stakeholders. This understanding enables them to provide tailored recommendations and solutions that address specific pain points and maximize the partnership’s potential.
Best Practices For Effective Partnerships
In my over 30 years in business, I’ve navigated many vendor partnerships. Here are four of my top tips for forming an effective strategic partnership with a vendor:
1. Seek out vendors that will prioritize your organization’s best interests and be transparent about the benefit their solutions can offer rather than overpromising to make the sale.
2. Communication between both parties is key and should be ongoing. Look for vendors that are easy to reach and ready to strategize and troubleshoot.
3. Don’t disregard integration. The right vendor needs to be a good fit with the organizational culture and existing systems. Investing in a solution that doesn’t integrate with the existing infrastructure will lead to more headaches and administrative burden.
4. Don’t jump in without doing your research first. Patience is a virtue when it comes to finding the right strategic partner. Evaluate several potential vendors before committing, and be sure to get input from stakeholders across roles and departments.
The process doesn’t end when you commit to a vendor: Vendor partnerships can face ongoing challenges such as personnel turnover, restructuring, system errors and contract negotiations. Following these tips and keeping the lines of communication open should set you up for a successful long-term partnership.
Value-Driven Partnerships Yield Greater Returns
When you view your vendors as strategic partners, the value of these relationships will increase tenfold. Why limit your organization to transactional partnerships when they can be so much more?
Strategic partners prioritize delivering value. They are committed to achieving measurable outcomes and return on investment and help hospitals and health systems select and implement solutions that generate positive impacts in terms of patient care, operational efficiency, financial performance and overall organizational success. By partnering with organizations that can be strategic advisors first, healthcare organizations can align solutions with key goals and optimize the overall impact of vendor partnerships on their organizations.