How to improve supplier relationships for better value analysis

Throughout the year, we’ve explored our Value Analysis Survival Guide to help members begin or reignite their value analysis efforts. In this issue, we wrap up our yearlong series by taking a look at best practices for managing suppliers.

Kim Kelly, MSN, RN

Concerned about undue influence and upselling, some facilities want to minimize interactions with suppliers, but suppliers can be a valuable resource in the information-gathering part of the value analysis process and in educating the staff/clinical team post-process. “Suppliers are the experts in their products,” says Kim Kelly, MSN, RN, HealthTrust’s AVP of Clinical Services, “so having a good relationship with them can help impact if and when there is a change.”

As product experts, they can answer technical questions relating to products and can help introduce the product and train clinicians and other staff members, says Jody Upton, MSN, MSM, RN, HealthTrust’s Director of Clinical Services. And, she adds, existing physician/supplier relationships may also be leveraged to your advantage and can be beneficial when trying to make a change.

Jody Upton, MSN, MSM, RN

Having a relationship with suppliers doesn’t mean being “best buddies” with them. However, Kelly suggests, “Make sure they know who you are, and you know who they are. Have a conversation with them. Build a relationship that’s based on more than a transactional work relationship.”

The backbone of relationships with suppliers is setting clear guidelines about what you and your facility expect of them, says Upton.

Credentialing is key

Most facilities use a third party to set up and maintain a credentialing process for suppliers to have access to the facility and its clinicians and staff members, but a third party is not necessary. Facilities can create and maintain their own credentialing process.

“A credentialing process really is paramount to managing access within a facility, particularly in critical areas where there may be a higher volume of suppliers on a daily basis,” Kelly explains. Having a credentialing process in place also sends a message to the supplier community that the facility is serious and that there will be consequences if suppliers do not adhere to guidelines.

Credentialing includes getting information from suppliers about who they work for, where they work, what products they’re selling and which physicians they’ll visit. There’s also a health component, such as knowing if they have had a COVID vaccine.

Having a credentialing process in place not only ensures that suppliers know what’s expected of them, but it also empowers facility employees, Kelly adds. “It helps the staff if they’re aware of what suppliers are supposed to do,” she says. Encourage staff members to remind suppliers of the rules (such as the need to wear a badge) and to report consistent noncompliance.

Beyond credentialing, explains Upton, facilities should let suppliers know, preferably in writing, what the rules are when they’re in the facility (such as the need for appointments and rules against visiting other providers and upselling).

Understand your needs

Suppliers, with their expertise, often support clinical staff during procedures and provide education and training, which is valuable. “The facility loses a little control because it is the supplier providing it; however, you’re not affecting your manpower when you’re not engaging your staff to be the trainers,” Upton adds.

While many facilities find the benefits outweigh the risks, others want a tighter rein on the opportunities suppliers have to upsell or sway clinicians. These facilities may decide suppliers shouldn’t be in the operating room during surgeries, for example, curbing the chance a supplier might say to a surgeon mid-procedure that if you used X product in this scenario, you’d get Y result. Instead, suppliers are only allowed to train clinicians in advance of procedures.

Manage inappropriate behavior
“The vast majority of suppliers are good partners, and they understand the long gain of working with the facility and within the facility,” says Kelly. However, sometimes there are situations where things go awry, and in those cases, you must take action.

Be visible
Be visible so you know who the suppliers are and see who is complying and who’s not. Just being around in areas where there tend to be a lot of suppliers, such as the cath lab, may curb some unwanted behavior. Also, talk with your staff; they know better than anyone what’s happening.

Immediately address inappropriate behavior
Have a conversation with the supplier, pointing out whatever is happening is not allowed and explaining what will happen if it doesn’t stop. Depending on the type of infraction, whether the supplier has been warned before, and what personalities are involved, an official letter may be more useful than a face-to-face discussion.

Ban noncompliant suppliers
In cases when suppliers fail to curb their inappropriate behavior, you can request to work with other representatives. This is well within the rights of an organization. Colleagues have input into who can and cannot come into a facility.

A point of caution: If you see that a situation is escalating with a particular supplier, make sure the clinicians who regularly see the supplier are aware of what’s going on. You don’t want your surgeons blindsided when a new person they don’t know shows up in the operating room, replacing a person they expected. And you want your physicians to hear from you about what’s going on rather than hear about it from the disgruntled supplier.

Managing relationships with suppliers comes down to clear communication. If everyone knows what the boundaries are and respects them, then you can minimize or eliminate situations you don’t want to be in and open the door to appropriate interactions that can benefit the value analysis process.

For specific steps to effectively manage suppliers, see Chapter 7 of the Value Analysis Survival Guide. Contact your HealthTrust Account Manager or email to request related resources.

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