A few weeks ago, I had a meeting with three different customers, all from healthcare systems that were looking to revamp the way they worked with suppliers. We talked a lot about partnership, and I found it interesting because each of the customers had a unique perspective on how to approach supplier relations. It got me thinking about how we all use the word “partnership” in our industry, but each of us defines it differently..
At its core, partnership can be defined—in our world—as two organizations that are working together to ensure that patients get high quality healthcare. Seems pretty simple, but that could cover a range of relationships. Even two companies that are working together at a purely transactional level can fit that definition.
To me and to a lot of the people I talk to every day, true partnership means something more. It means being willing to have consistent, face-to-face conversations about how our two organizations can think differently about how we approach the business of healthcare. It requires a level of trust and transparency that takes time to build and care to maintain. Time and energy are necessary to build such a partnership, both of which are things that many healthcare organizations don’t feel like they have in abundance.
To put supplier relations in perspective, think about how a typical healthcare system might have 1,500 to 2,000 suppliers they use to acquire everything from gloves to hospital beds. It’s virtually impossible to have true partnerships with all of these organizations. What we’re finding is that our customers pick a select group from their pool of suppliers and focus their relationship-building attention on the 10-20 companies that can bring the most value to the health system.
As a supplier, we have to do the same. Out of our pool of thousands of customers, we know that we can maintain true partnerships with only a fraction of them. So we have to prioritize and assign resources accordingly.
This approach makes a lot of sense, but it requires everyone to be a little more up front about our perspective and motive than maybe we’re used to. Both sides of the table have to be willing to be honest and, at times, vulnerable.
It can feel a little daunting to start, but we’ve seen that significant value can be found in such partnerships. They can move us away from the transactional discussions and allow us to uncover the issues that create barriers in the system. Then, by working together, we can come up with creative ways to overcome these barriers and build a more efficient healthcare system.
As an example, in past posts I’ve discussed the idea of outward migration. The trend in healthcare is to move the appropriate patients away from acute care centers and into easily accessible care centers. This migration, over time, would result in lower healthcare costs across the board. Achieving the best outcome for patients in this scenario will require true partnership. And, such a project would exist entirely outside of transactional conversations.
For me, true partnership means looking out for each other’s best interest and not just our own. Partnership is not based on transactions or e-mails. Partnership requires time in front of each other and honest discussion.
Check out the past posts from my desk here.
David Reed is currently Vice President of Operations, Vice President of Healthcare Business Solutions for Cook Medical Incorporated. With over 30 years of life science industry expertise Dave holds an MBA from California Miramar University and serves as a member of the Indiana University Kelly School of Business Supply Chain and Global Management Academy Advisory Board.