Buying a Partnership

Providers Are Buying Partnerships, Not Products

KLAS has convened several industry conferences with many top provider and vendor leaders on the major puzzles the industry needs to solve. Interoperability was our first conference to tackle.

 As I walked back to my office after the kickoff meeting for the 2015 conference, I sarcastically thought, “Perfect! Let’s start with a small, simple topic.” To our amazement, the conference was fantastic and had very few bumps. Following the conference, many of the attendants asked whether KLAS would convene something like this again on other major topics, like cybersecurity, patient engagement, and population health.

 Full of optimistic naïveté and feeling like we had just won the lottery with interoperability, we agreed to the task. The follow-up to that conference was a summit where both providers and vendors collaborated to define population health and create a framework. This framework has six main categories outlining all the current and future functionality that health systems need to successfully tackle population health. Upon completion of that summit, I was amazed; it was like we had won the lottery twice.

 As an analyst and researcher from the academic world, I began to try to understand why KLAS seemed to be so lucky. My only conclusion is that it has nothing to do with KLAS. It has everything to do with the collective intellectual horsepower that these leading healthcare executives bring to the table.

 It is a little intimidating to be in the room with CEOs and presidents of vendor companies sitting across the table from the leading physicians and executive informaticists. To me, this sounds like the headline of a pay-per-view wrestling grudge match. “Vendors versus providers! One night, one cage, one outcome!” in Vince McMahon’s booming voice. But interestingly, over the course of a few years and several conferences, KLAS has seen these executives check their egos, park their agendas, put on their work gloves, and come together to tackle these seemingly impossible puzzles.

 I am officially tossing statistics and probability to the wind because KLAS defied the odds and won the lottery once again. KLAS just convened another Keystone summit, this time on the complex topic of enterprise imaging. The leading imaging vendors and healthcare provider executives came together at the Snowbird resort in Utah to discuss the biggest challenges relative to imaging in the healthcare industry.

 The point of this article is to highlight one of the subtler themes that emerged from the conference. Among the panel groups and table discussions about the biggest challenges in the imaging world, two questions came to the surface: what are providers buying, and what are vendors selling?

 KLAS has been watching buying trends for years, and we even launched an initiative to capture technology purchasing decisions in the industry so we can trend that data. Over the past few years KLAS has watched a shift in what providers are buying. This trend was summed up at the conference by Rasu Shrestha, chief innovation officer at UPMC, when he said, “Providers are not buying software anymore; they are buying partnerships.” Historically, buying software has been very transactional. I think of all the software that I have purchased on a personal level, and that software does not come with training or an implementation team.

 As software becomes more complex and is implemented in large organizations, there is a greater need for help from the vendor community to ensure customers are successful with the software. As I reflected on the meaning behind what Rasu shared, I started to think about what providers are buying in a partnership.

They are buying an IT team, a support team, an implementation and training team, a team of developers that understand healthcare, and an executive team that knows the direction healthcare is going in and can create a strategy that aligns technology with the ever-changing needs of providers. This sounds like more than just software.

 In a separate session, Louis Lannum, former imaging director at Cleveland Clinic and current executive at Agfa HealthCare, said, "We need to stop selling technology to providers; we need to sell customer success. We need to sell how we are going to help them achieve their needed outcomes."  This customer-success sentiment was followed up with a thought from Tarik Alkasab from Massachusetts General Hospital, who said, “We are not buying technology from a vendor. We are marrying them [the vendor].”

 The imagery of marriage suggest that this is a much larger commitment than just buying software. In summary, it sounds like to me that providers are marrying technology partners that are focused on customer success and driving outcomes.

 As we consider many of the vendors that are driving higher customer satisfaction, we often find that they are selling much more than just technology. They are selling partnerships with a vision to help providers achieve their desired and needed outcomes.