Although I'm now employed full time as the Chief Medical Officer of Merge, for most of my 38 years in healthcare, I worked full time as a radiologist, performing diagnostic and interventional procedures. Throughout my career as a physician, I also developed and helped run imaging centers, and participated in the management of a hospital radiology department. So, while today, I spend much of my time thinking about how as a vendor-partner I can help our healthcare customers succeed, for much of my career, I had a different perspective and goal—making sure my vendors were supporting and enabling my practice's success. What follows are tips to help guide these important partnerships.
Perhaps the single most important step in getting the most from a vendor-partner is establishing clear and mutually understood channels and terms of communication.
Seek Input From Clinicians
- Begin by documenting your leadership team, contact information, and communication requirements.
- Clearly communicate your needs, goals, timelines, and metrics of success.
- Make sure that your vendor and your own clinical, business, and IT team members understand that clinical decisions are to be made by clinical people.
- While a doctor or technologist cannot attend every vendor meeting, create a culture up-front wherein the vendor and customer team members all recognize the need to document clinical input on all clinical decisions.
It's tempting to take shortcuts. After all, physicians often seem too busy to participate in administrative or technical decisions. But it's risky to make clinical decisions without input from doctors and nurses. For example, it's easy to remember to ask doctors to approve the data compression employed when a PACS is first installed, but perhaps not as obvious that they should review and approve the image quality and data compression for every newly added imaging device. It may be obvious that doctors need to review and approve clinical report templates, but perhaps not as obvious they should approve technologists' forms, especially any safety-related questionnaires or forms that collect clinical data. Similarly, it seems obvious that radiologists and cardiologists must be deeply involved in implementing their own reading stations, but they may overlook that imaging specialists and other clinicians should also review and approve the clinical review stations that are used in the ER, wards, and outpatient settings.
Determine Which Strategies Work
The most successful strategy I found for managing vendor communication was to create a "need-to-know list" — the list of clinical and non-clinical people that need to be kept in the loop on all communication. By providing a vendor with a list of key people to include in all communication, one sets the stage for an open culture of collaboration. In addition, maintaining a document that lists the key clinical implementation decisions, who made them, and when, can help raise everyone's accountability.
Another strategy for getting the most from your vendor is to set a regular schedule for check-in with a single empowered vendor representative. As a customer, I always valued vendors that kept me abreast of their future developments and pro-actively checked-in with me to catch incipient problems or help budget for future needs. So, rather than just hope the vendor performed in this manner, I would proactively set regular meetings myself. I tried to get to know the product managers who ran my product lines, not just the local sales representative or account facilitator.
Consider the Individual Concerns of Your Staff
When managing a new implementation or major upgrade, consider the extra demands on your own staff. Before a project begins, survey your own personnel, including the physicians, to best understand their individual concerns and adaptability. Use this information to help the vendor schedule your training. For example, don't start training with the users you perceive will be most difficult; instead, start with leaders that will inject enthusiasm and emotional support early in the training process. Your vendor's trainers are people too, and getting started with the most difficult or skeptical user might drain the trainer to the point where other users do not gain the optimal experience. Lastly, be sure to lighten the clinical workload during training and set aside ample time for additional training and follow-up.
Develop Mutual Success Metrics
It's important to pro-actively help your vendor understand how you will measure the success of the project and long-term relationship. Have you established clinical and financial targets? Specific goals and timelines? You and your vendor are much more likely to stay in sync if you are aiming for the same targets.
Finally, think "mutual references." Let all of your people know that success means that the vendor should consider you a reference site. If you're not, it means that other customers have managed the relationship with this same vendor more successfully. Consider shifting your mindset from being a recipient of the vendor's services and products to being a vendor manager
. Help your people and the vendor's people understand that success means mutual
success. When everyone realizes that all boats rise (and fall) with the tide, the relationship will be strengthened and your imaging IT positioned for even greater success.