Managing vendor relationships can be challenging for several reasons. The high volume of manufacturers and suppliers hospital supply chains deal with can be daunting. Distributors and purchasing organizations can help make it more manageable, but with thousands upon thousands of SKUs at any given hospital, they cannot cover all of it. On top of that, hospitals are sometimes overrun by vendor representatives—or so it might seem!—and overseeing those interactions can be a time-consuming task in and of itself.
The first step in ensuring that vendors are complying with the expectations of the hospital is to outline the expectations in a vendor management policy and distribute it to both vendors and staff. Secondly, before a vendor walks through the door, it is important to check their credentials. Third-party vendor credentialing services can make this process easier. A good vendor credentialing service can assist with general compliance issues and offer advanced features such as facility-specific credentialing, exclusion screening, and software tracking of approved vendors and noncompliant vendors.
Interactions between vendors and hospital staff should also have clear parameters to prevent intentional or unintentional compliance breaches and ensure that business dealings are honest and mutually beneficial. Relationships between vendors and staff can be complex. For instance, some physicians may rely on vendors in the operating suite to act as technical experts. That arrangement has benefited physicians, but it has also, in some cases, created a dependency on certain vendors, prompting physicians to heavily favor them over all others. This can be problematic when supply chains push for standard device formularies. In response, some organizations now prohibit vendors from assisting during procedures. If that is not possible, a first step may be to add an expectation of objectivity to a staff-facing vendor interaction policy.
Other measures to decrease vendor favoritism include prohibiting high-value gifts, gratuities, and vendor-sponsored social events that are primarily of social value, as opposed to having business value (the difference between a networking dinner at a conference, and tickets to a sporting event or concert). Finally, the most important way to make sure vendor and staff interactions are compliant is to require full disclosure of interactions and/or any financial relationships the parties may have.
While it is was noted that vendors can sometimes play too much of a role in terms of technical support, an organization should still be able to rely on vendors when products are changed or new technology is introduced. For clinical staff, that can mean providing training on how a product functions, safety features, basic troubleshooting, and how to return an item that is deemed defective. The training should occur prior to onboarding and on an ongoing basis. Training is also important when a new purchased services vendor joins the hospital. Training can focus on communicating to staff what to expect from the service, how to use the service, and how to interface with the vendor’s staff. Training can be focused on functional procedures and related to building relationships and aligning cultures. Since vendor compliance falls under the overview of supply chain, product demonstrations and education should be scheduled with supply chain, except for agreed upon special circumstances.
By applying these and other strategies, challenging vendor management-related issues can be mitigated or eliminated, paving the way for healthier and more productive vendor relationships.
If you enjoyed this blog post from HBI, please complete the form below to subscribe!