HealthTrust and many of its members champion a vendor credentialing standard that addresses safety and regulatory issues.
Patient safety considerations encompass more than preventing medical errors, reducing surgical complications or lowering the instance of healthcare-acquired infections. Another important, but often overlooked, factor in implementing a culture of patient safety is strengthening vendor credentialing, the process that verifies supplier representatives who visit various areas of a hospital. Before allowing access to specific areas of the hospital, the process ensures that suppliers are vetted with background checks, the proper immunizations, drug tests, certifications and training. Though most hospital systems acknowledge the value in a standard process, vendor credentialing requirements aren’t consistent and are rarely standardized.
That’s where a vendor credentialing standard comes in. A comprehensive standard can dismantle roadblocks to heighten patient safety and solve regulatory and liability challenges for healthcare facilities. It can also help a health system streamline its contract compliance and supplier visitation policies, saving clinicians’ time to devote to patient care. However, a solid vendor credentialing standard isn’t solely beneficial for hospital leaders: It may also reduce variance and iron out costly duplications for the supplier community, which can ultimately reduce waste and expense for the entire industry.
Healthtrust Organizes Industry Collaboration
A few hospital systems have standardized vendor credentialing requirements, but there’s wide variation in what other IDNs and hospitals mandate, and costs and red tape can add up quickly for suppliers. “Vendor representatives have to pay to obtain certifications and remain compliant with third-party vendor credentialing service providers, and the fees can be very expensive — especially if individual hospitals have their own unique credentialing requirements,” says Allen Wright, senior vice president, strategic sourcing at HealthTrust.
“Based on the number of facilities that reps call on and the number of unique hospital credentialing requirements, combined with multiple third-party credentialing firms with which they have to deal, it can be extremely expensive, inefficient and difficult for suppliers to juggle the multiplying, overlapping and sometimes repetitive credentialing requirements,” he continues. “There are various estimates that the lack of standards across the industry is costing the system $1-2 billion annually. Ultimately, these costs are indirectly embedded in the cost of products and services sold across the healthcare system.”
The expense and variation of such standards were among the frustrations HealthTrust heard from its supplier community at the 2016 HealthTrust University Conference, and leadership decided to take action. In late 2016, HealthTrust asked member representatives to designate clinical, HR and supply team personnel to participate in a multidisciplinary committee to establish the HealthTrust vendor credentialing standards. Tracy Cleveland, director of operational integration for Trinity Health, and Scott Gasiorek, Trinity Health’s director of supply chain informatics, joined other member representatives in a quest to develop a set of recommended guidelines to gain consistency in credentialing requirements.
HealthTrust started by surveying the member participants about their standards and reported the results at a two-day credentialing summit held in March of 2017. “Members shared best practices as well as policies and procedures that would benefit the entire industry,” Wright says. In the two years since, HealthTrust’s committee has refined those standards. Members who participated in developing the standards have started to implement them across their health systems. HealthTrust is now ready to release the standards to the broader membership.
Other organizations have tried to standardize the supplier credentialing requirements and convince hospitals to move together in one direction. However, those efforts have not been successful because of the inability to align standards among different hospitals and IDNs, Wright explains.
“HealthTrust is distinctively capable of establishing these standards because of the collaborative culture of our aligned membership,” he continues. “We are making these standards publically available to both members and non-members to promote efficiencies across the industry.”
Trinity Health’s Experience
Cleveland has been with Trinity Health since 2013. He has worked in the healthcare supply chain industry since 1992. “In my 25 years of experience, I’ve seen everything from a spiral-bound notebook to maintain vendor credentials to the current state of credentialing portals and everything in between,” he recalls.
To register vendor representative visits, Trinity Health’s solution has evolved to institute credentialing portals across its acute-care hospital space. If reps are not compliant with the standards, a badge will not be issued, and the supplier will not be allowed into the facility. “The portals are by far the best method we have had,” Cleveland says.
The credentialing system at Trinity Health strengthens the health system’s culture of patient safety while limiting the entry of supplier representatives into the facility. “First and foremost, vendor credentialing is a safety issue,” Cleveland says. “We have an obligation to make sure all of our visiting vendors and contractors are legitimate, authentic and aligned with our approved processes. Limiting access helps ensure a safe and less disruptive environment for patients and their families, and for our clinicians and colleagues.”
Cleveland says the system has also helped with regulatory compliance. “Having a credentialing program enables us to collect required information on vaccination status, criminal background history, technical competency and professional accreditation for access at any of Trinity Health’s facilities nationwide,” he says.
The system has had other concrete benefits, too. It has helped drive contract compliance and standardization, which impacts supply costs. It also ensures suppliers are meeting their agreements with the hospital and only selling products they are authorized to sell. Now that Trinity Health has implemented vendor credentialing standards across its health system, next steps include refining the process, including taking close looks at elements like managing vendor appointments and the frequency of supplier visits. Cleveland believes the system will increase efficiency by reducing uninvited vendor visits to facilities.
“We added up the number of registered visits captured through the credentialing portal system and the time associated with those visits was staggering,” Cleveland says. “So, now we’re moving toward a more centralized approach in which supplier reps work with our strategic sourcing team instead of taking up the valuable time of clinicians in our hospitals. It’s an optimization initiative that can give those responsible for patient care more time with the people they serve.”
Cleveland acknowledges that there are plenty of good reasons for suppliers to visit a facility to provide education and training on medical devices and to repair and maintain equipment, to name a few—but it’s also important to separate vital conversations about patient care from selling products and services. “When administrative rules such as the vendor credentialing system and centralized sales calls are put into place, it takes the sales pressure off the vendor-clinician relationship that has been building over time,” he explains.
“Establishing a standard set of criteria for the supplier community to gain access to our facilities has brought welcome change to the process,” Cleveland says. “The shift makes these vendor credentialing standards easy to implement while offering significant benefits—both to health systems and the people they serve.”