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6 critical steps (plus one) for successful digital vendor selection

Article

It’s tough and getting tougher in any industry, and especially health care. Here are best practices to find a tech partner to ensure a long-term return on investment.

health care technology: © Blue Planet Studio - stock.adobe.com

© Blue Planet Studio - stock.adobe.com

Selecting a digital vendor is a complex task in any industry, but it’s especially challenging in health care. Between the influx of thousands of new point solutions into the market, the lack of unbiased comprehensive information about vendors and solutions, the complexities of interoperability and electronic health record (EHR) integrations, and the unique nuance of each physician’s practice, clinic, hospital, or large health system, it’s an industry with enormous demand but few “one-size-fits-all” solutions.

What’s more, the challenge of digital health solution selection begins long before the stage where individual solutions can be considered. Effective solution selection demands a comprehensive and repeatable process, in which opportunities can be identified and scrutinized, requirements can be gathered, and stakeholders can be identified and aligned around the strategic needs, specific opportunity, and key metrics and returns on investments (ROIs). Each of these steps is a complex process in and of itself, and proceeding without a well-realized and repeatable process is a recipe for disaster, in terms of both ROI and clinical and patient impact.

Dhiraj Patkar

Dhiraj Patkar

But despite the inherent complexity of digital solution selection, the challenge is far from insurmountable. Quite the opposite: By following a series of comprehensive and repeatable steps, you can ensure your next digital solution selection process not only succeeds but delivers the results your organization needs.

Step 0: Identify a capability area

The first and perhaps most important hurdle to clear in any digital solution selection process is narrowing your options to a particular capability area. Is your focus remote patient monitoring (RPM)? Virtual visits? Workforce efficiency? Honing in on specific capabilities not only allows your organization to be specific about the intended impact and ROI, it allows for better scoped and more thorough research at every subsequent step.

Once you’ve selected your focus, it’s essential to get smart on what “good” looks like in that specific capability area, what the leading or industry standard solutions are, and what particular differentiators exist between them.

Not sure where to start getting up to speed with your chosen capability area? Marketplaces can be a good place to begin – just make sure you’re getting an unbiased point of view. (More on that later.)

Step 1: Take stock of your current technology

Every health system is different, and that goes for their technology as well as their needs. It’s critical to know what solutions and vendors are already deployed, because it impacts which solutions will be a good fit and because it may turn out you already have access to a capability through unused or underutilized features of an existing solution.

In addition to understanding the technology itself, it’s critical to understand your organization’s overall technical capabilities, metrics, and oversight structures. By aligning on technology upfront, you will avoid costly mistakes and wasted time further down the road – especially because selecting an incompatible or difficult to implement solution is one of the fastest ways to throw a project off course.

Step 2: Decide the goals and benefits that you are looking to achieve

Capabilities are critical, but they’re only part of the story when it comes to vendor selection: Individual populations, specific use cases and benefits, and where and how the solution will be deployed all make a big difference on what solution will best meet the needs of your organization.

Many digital solutions focus on one or two specific populations, especially early in their lifecycle. By getting specific about exactly where, how, and for whom the system will be implemented, your vendor search can be narrowed to solutions best suited for the actual conditions in which the solution will be used. And without clearly stated goals and benefits, it’s difficult to say whether you actually achieved what you set out to do – or even to know what metrics to measure if you wanted to find out.

Step 3: Identify key priorities and solution needs

Once high-level goals and use cases are identified, you’re ready to start digging into individual features and functionalities – which will be driven by those same goals, use cases, and specifics. Are you deploying the solution in a pediatric setting? Support for family and caregiver users might be a priority. Are you serving a multilingual population? Translation or interpretive capabilities might be critical for success.

It’s also important to capture these needs in a straightforward way that can easily be shared beyond your team. Letting vendors know what features matter to you ensures that demos and evaluations cover the topics that matter to you, rather than features that don’t.

Step 4: Short list vendors

With your list of requirements and critical functionality in hand, it’s time to begin shortlisting vendors. You can start by eliminating vendors and solutions that don’t meet critical requirements like available technology integrations and key features, then prioritize based on a history of similar implementations and successful reported outcomes at other health systems.

Many marketplaces offer user reviews or testimonials that can help you narrow your search: just be sure that you’re getting unbiased information and capturing feedback from health systems with similar requirements and populations as your own. Feedback and reviews aren’t helpful if they reflect a totally unrelated use case or implementation.

Step 5: Perform deep due diligence

One of the major challenges of digital solution selection is that public information on vendors and solutions tends to be either very limited or very biased, frequently originating from the vendors themselves. That’s why a superficial shortlist isn’t enough; you should also be requesting in-depth demos from vendors that cover the specific features and requirements that matter to you.

Beyond demos, you should also be performing your own independent inquiry through peer networks and reference checks. This is another opportunity where marketplaces can be a great help: the right marketplace can connect you with similar health systems who can provide references, additional lessons learned, and more candid information on the actual outcomes and success of a given solution.

Step 6: Pilot and scale contract negotiations

Once you’ve narrowed your shortlist down to a clear winner, it’s time to wrap up your final due diligence before the actual work of implementation. Some things you’ll need to consider before moving forwarded are cybersecurity and IT integrations, and contract terms like pricing, renewal and termination clauses, payment limits, and change of control clauses (important in an industry where mergers and acquisitions happen regularly and might significantly impact the long-term roadmap or commitments of a vendor).

Then – and only then – are you ready to actually, finally, decisively, and confidently move forward.

A challenge today, an opportunity tomorrow

Vendor and solution selection are challenges that won’t go away any time soon – if anything, they will become more and more critical as the digital solution market continues to expand and more companies and solutions enter and exit the market.

But by proceeding through a well-defined and consistent selection process – and by tapping resources like peer networks, health care marketplaces, and objective third-parties – it’s possible to turn an unruly challenge into a major opportunity for success, positive impact, and long-term ROI.

Dhiraj Patkar is the senior vice president for AVIA Marketplace, the health care industry’s platform for accelerating digital transformation, overseeing its growth and development. Patkar has nearly 20 years of health care experience blending product development, strategy, technology, and management working with payors, providers, pharmacy benefits managers and health tech startups. He cofounded two health tech startups and spent over a decade developing and refining products at Health Care Service Corporation. He holds a master’s in industrial engineering from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and a bachelor’s in chemical engineering from University of Mumbai, India.

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