When the COVID-19 crisis made it necessary for hospital visitors—even hospitalized patients’ family members—to stay away, it only made sense that suppliers would face similar restrictions to ensure their own safety, along with that of staff and patients. But creating revised policies around this unique circumstance has proven to be daunting for some facilities, prompting HealthTrust to share example protocols and templates to smooth the path forward.
“On a typical pre-pandemic day in a healthcare setting, tons of suppliers were dropping off new products, assisting with procedures and exchanging old products for new,” says Sara Crittenden, Vice President of Strategic Accounts at HealthTrust. “What COVID created was really a mandate: If you’re not vital to this hospital, you’re not allowed in.”
Crittenden adds that some of those reductions in visits happened naturally: “With no elective procedures taking place, that automatically cut back and restricted the number of reps in our members’ facilities,” she says. “But they still needed protocols in place in the event a rep was onsite. And they had to figure out how to handle reps coming back for an essential purpose.”
Some HealthTrust member facilities were quick to create work requirements governing supplier visits shortly after the pandemic emerged, while others had questions about the best way to implement new processes. Crittenden and her colleagues collected samples of member policies and drafted examples of guidelines other members could adapt to meet their own needs. “To me, one of the benefits of being part of a GPO [group purchasing organization] is learning from your peers,” she explains.
New restrictions around supplier visits typically require that they do the following:
- Prove visits are “mission critical,” such as those that provide support in specific procedural cases
- Complete internal assessment and approval forms before visits are approved and scheduled
- Check-in only through a defined entrance
- Complete a screening at check-in, such as temperature checks, face-mask usage and COVID-19 questionnaires
- Avoid lingering after an approved visit
“If a rep shows up and is turned away, that’s obviously a problem,” Crittenden says, adding that time and money are both wasted in such a scenario. “The importance of respecting everyone’s time and the rules that govern engagement is a big piece of this.”
Many HealthTrust members identified specific protocols based on their facilities’ needs and specialties, Crittenden explains. “Most of our members have infectious disease protocols, safety and risk management, and clinical expertise,” she says. “Those were the different groups that usually weighed in and had opinions on how this would be handled.”
Regardless of which specific protocols a facility adopts, clear and precise communication about the policies to suppliers is a must.
As the conditions of the pandemic fluctuate, so too must healthcare facilities’ requirements, Crittenden says.
“Certain regions are having their highest cases of COVID-19 to date. Facilities know they’ll put these protocols in place and may have to change them in very short order to protect patients and clinicians,” she says. “But in healthcare, and especially in supply chain, there are always new regulations they have to enforce and change. I think our customers probably adapt better than most.”
Visit the Vendor & Supplier Visits During COVID-19 toolkit on the HealthTrust clinical resources site.