True Partnerships

How Can Providers Better Engage with Vendors?

KLAS started from a desire to change the world of healthcare IT. We wanted to find and report accurate data that would impact decision making. As I think on that goal, I sometimes wish our impact were more measurable—that I could list the number of buying decisions we have impacted, for instance.

In reality, quantifying our impact is difficult, but that doesn’t mean our impact goes unfelt. Truthfully, the impact of KLAS data is probably best seen on an individual level. There are a lot of good ideas in the market and a lot of energetic startups trying to figure out how to capture the market in new areas. I don’t believe KLAS actually speeds up those new entrances, but I do think we help vendors focus on doing what they say they will. 

A competitive market and vendors’ belief in their products make it so easy for sales teams to tell providers, “We think our tool is going to solve all of your problems.” In my experience, the average “miracle cure-all” really addresses only one problem and may not even do a good job at that. 

The responsibility to prevent such disappointing situations rests on both providers, and vendors. 

Vendors must ask, “How can we communicate realistic expectations?” Typically, the vendors who ask that question and choose to be accountable also cheer KLAS on in our measurement efforts. The vendors who don’t work as hard to set realistic expectations tend to throw stones; I think that response is only human. 

I have seen vendors end up by the wayside, and providers have said, “Adam, do you realize that that vendor died because of you?” But I’ve always felt that such a responsibility is too heavy to belong on one person’s shoulders. I think the biggest reason that those vendors died was that they couldn’t meet their commitments. KLAS isn’t looking for anyone to fail. Our number-one goal is to ultimately benefit the provider community, and whenever a vendor crashes and burns, providers bear the brunt of the collateral damage. We much prefer to see providers and vendors work together to find solutions that really work. 

As I mentioned, the responsibility on avoiding disappointing situations rests on both parties. In recent years, I’ve seen in the provider community a growing sentiment of partnership. Providers aren’t just looking to buy tools; they want to contract with vendors that will meet providers on their level and make the providers’ concerns their own. 

However, the idea of a partnership implies that both parties come to the table. We've mentioned a few things vendors should do, but what about the other side? Providers who want their vendors to be partners should also ask, “What can we as providers do to better partner with our vendors?” 

I think many of us on the provider side have the goal of whittling down a vendor’s price to the lowest number possible, but that kind of bargaining comes at a cost. We cut out the training and much of the R&D the vendor wants to put in, and eventually, the vendor’s ability to form a partnership is carved out of existence. When providers negotiate to simply buy the cheapest tools, we tie our vendors’ hands behind their backs.

I understand that IT is expensive and that budgets are tight—I’m not saying that throwing extra money at a problem will make it go away. But I do believe that we occasionally sacrifice outcomes for the sake of hyper-frugality. We ask vendors to be partners while haggling them to become simple tool salesmen. 

If we want true partnerships, we need to identify win/win situations. I know that’s a worn-out phrase, but I think a win/win mindset is key to finding vendors we can trust.

How can providers uncover trustworthy vendors? It may seem counterintuitive, but I would listen for things that a vendor can’t do. An up-front vendor willing to say, “We don’t do that” is generally a vendor you can trust. Instead of cringing when we hear about a vendor’s limitations, we should cheer! 

If a vendor is honest about the things they can’t do, I have greater confidence that they are honest about the things they can accomplish. That trust becomes the foundation of a true partnership.

The work for providers shouldn’t stop there. Providers need to decide, “We are going to partner with this vendor. We’ll put in the effort to really get to know their executives. We’ll attend their user group meetings and bring along our board members. We’re going to make this vendor relationship a priority.” 

Of course, this means more time and expense. But I think the short-term “win” of a cheap tool leads to a long-term, expensive loss when our expectations can’t be met and we decide to rip out and replace. We should maximize strategic value instead of fighting for the lowest possible price. After all, true healthcare has never been about doing what’s easy—it’s always been about doing what’s best for patients.
  • Vendor Engagement
  • Population Health
  • Provider engagement