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4 Tips for Successfully Navigating EHR Vendor Relationships

Improving relationships with EHR vendors is essential to the long-term value that the technology will provide a practice.

Source: Thinkstock

By Sheri Stoltenberg

- Across the country, the healthcare industry has nearly reached full transition from paper documentation to electronic health records (EHRs). Thanks to the push from government initiatives, by 2025, the global EHR market will reach a reported $33 billion.

Today, vendors continue to modify and expand system offerings as interoperability and certified EHR technology (CEHRT) are vital for participating in mandated programs like the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) Quality Payment Program (QPP). With EHRs here to stay, healthcare providers need to strategize how to best communicate with vendors for mutually beneficial partnerships.

Whether you are considering switching EHR systems or optimizing current systems, here are four tips for maximizing vendor relationship opportunities throughout an EHR lifecycle.

1. Create a cross-disciplinary negotiation team.

To set a collaborative tone from the beginning, organizations should involve stakeholders from across the enterprise for both system selection and contract negotiation. A primary goal of this committee is to think cohesively about the organization and strive to eliminate process silos. Incorporating input from all organizational areas impacted by a new system and gaining insight from clinical, financial and operational areas is essential for short- and long-term success.

READ MORE: Why Healthcare Providers Should Embrace Innovative EHR Use

During contract negotiations, include financial and IT representation along with legal and outside consulting professionals who hold verified experience and expertise in EHR contract negotiation. Legal and consultant support will be able to strategically maneuver contract language and negotiation tactics on your behalf.

Just like an implementation, vendor negotiation requires leadership. Within this cross-disciplinary team, appoint a lead negotiator to serve as the primary representative during vendor interactions. He or she must remain professional, avoiding emotional responses, while outlining the contracting process upfront with a clear timetable that includes accountability if deadlines are not met.

2. Think realistically beyond the sales cycle.

Typically, after the sales process, the realities of the vendor relationship become apparent. That is why from the beginning, organizations need to document what is promised by sales representatives and then communicate those expectations to, at a minimum, the vendor’s regional management. Any discussed promises should also include mutually-agreed timelines.

Compare a current state analysis of your organization with the vendor’s projected future state to identify missing must haves. Find out what end users cannot live without up front. Use respectful communication and continued documentation to hold both sides accountable for achieving the list of must haves within the vendor process, while keeping end-users in check.

READ MORE: Most Patients Report EHR Technology Improves Quality of Care

Depending on the vendor, customizations and wish-list items can be built into the implementation or pulled into post-live optimization. It’s important to have this prioritized list relayed to vendors regularly, while realistically conveying progress to end-users.  

3. Serve as proactive end users.

Vendors are more likely and willing to implement software or version changes when clients offer their time and feedback, including specific use cases, to help improve the technology. Involvement can take many forms, including discussing the next development cycles, so vendors have a first-hand perspective that can help enhance functionality and ease-of-use. Doing so will make your hospital site a higher vendor priority for change.

Know that vendor relationships are a two-way street beyond the initial product and purchase. Be willing to vouch for the vendor as a reference to potential clients or engage in case studies, industry articles or conference presentations sharing how your organization best utilized the technology. The vendor will remember your organization as a brand representation and face of its technology, eliciting attention and primacy for your needs.

4. Take advantage of user group meetings.

READ MORE: EHR Interoperability to Transform Healthcare in Decade Ahead

Organizations that learn the most about their EHR often experience a greater return on investment. That is why it can beneficial to immerse IT leadership and super users in vendor conferences where they can participate in live demos, share feedback and receive the latest updates directly from vendor leaders. Helpful information gathered from such events can include guidance on vendor market share, industry trends and version upgrades. Gaining insight into the vendor’s roadmap will allow your organization to better predict the lifespan of your technology and return on investment.

Expanding beyond session material, find users from comparable healthcare organizations in attendance and pick their brains. These are not paid sales representatives, so you can trade honest insight and share experiences. Relationships should be formed with organizations similar in size, budget and patient community for more applicable, relevant best practices.  

Whether you are initiating your vendor journey or expanding into newly acquired facilities, remember that a vendor relationship needs to be mutually beneficial. Vendors do not want to see healthcare providers fail or negatively impact patient well-being or provider livelihood. Realistically, client success means more market share, referenceability and longevity in the industry.

If you approach vendors with open communication, documented needs and realistic expectations, the partnership can flourish into the future of value-based care.

Sheri Stoltenberg is the founder and CEO of Stoltenberg Consulting.  

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