By George Hampton
I’m kicking off with a spoiler alert: I’m not a big fan of RFPs (Requests for Proposal), a position likely shared by many of my industry peers. I would prefer to talk one-on-one with potential hospital partners to understand the strengths and opportunities with their existing Healthcare Technology Management (HTM) program, whether internal or external, and then develop a catered solution that takes their program to the next level. When you do things that way, you offer a win-win solution for both the healthcare system and the provider.
We also know the RFP process offers supply chain directors a seemingly simple way to identify and compare potential HTM partners. But it’s not a perfect approach. As we noted in our recent white paper, Right-Sizing HTM Partnerships to Maximize Value in the Face of Competition, getting to the best answer depends on the effort spent on crafting an RFP. Your end goal should be generating responses that allow you to compare bidders fairly and equally.
In the years we’ve been responding to RFPs, we’ve routinely seen the same questions over and over, illustrating the ease and perhaps tendency to copy and paste from an earlier proposal, rather than spend the time to understand your organization’s current needs. Being both tactical and strategic in refining your initial questions and decision-making process can address that.
However, if you’ve not yet upgraded your RFP experience and have a stack of responses sitting on your desk, you can still act smartly to help hospital leaders arrive at the best decision. You simply need to know the key pieces of information to parse out to make a truer apples-to-apples comparison – and figure out which bidder will deliver the right services to ensure your clinical engineering program best supports your patient-care mission.
Based on our TKA leadership’s experience on both sides of the table, we’ve identified proven approaches for dissecting your responses, getting to core information and making the best choice in selecting an external HTM provider, particularly since medical technology expenses now fall among the majority of your spending increases.
Consider these steps to review your RFP responses, with an eye toward ensuring each potential vendor is recommending – and, more critically, is positioned to deliver at stated costs – what you need to meet your hospital’s unique needs:
1. Know what’s really included in the final number.
Don’t automatically select the lowest bidder or discount the highest bidder. You might discover hidden costs and scope restrictions after you sign with that low bidder, whereas the high bidder might provide a more comprehensive service that streamlines overall expenses.
Sift out details of each proposal to see exactly what each provider – including your internal team, if that’s an option – defines what is within its scope of work and how well that aligns with what was outlined in your RFP. I promise, they aren’t all bidding on the same thing. Dig deep on exactly what each bidder would provide and uncover any potential surprises.
It’s similar to when you take your car to the quick-lube shop for the advertised $30 routine service. The mechanics start poking around and come back saying you need new wipers, ball joints, upgraded tires – and they put a $1,000 bill in front of you. Inclusive HTM service should mean an inclusive HTM price. Ask the financial questions before you find yourself spending more money down the road because you didn’t realize how the bidder structured its program.
Commonly, one of the biggest gaps is in parts procurement. Confirm who will order, track and pay for those parts, including often-overlooked shipping costs that add up quickly. However you set up your HTM program, you need clear accountability with procurement, as timely receipt of parts – including same-day for critical devices – reduces the risk of deferring patient care or losing revenue when a particularly high-value piece of equipment is out of service.
Finally, be aware of what the numbers tell you. They don’t lie, but they can be calculated in different ways. Uptime, for example, for one company could be based on the total 24/7 hours that a piece sits in a hospital, while another might base it on the total hours that is expected to be in service for patient care (which is what we recommend).
2. Search out the best fit provider.
A hospital isn’t going to negotiate and award a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract to any HTM provider without meeting the company’s principals and knowing who’ll be on the ground running your hospital’s day-to-day program. Beyond the official response, review your notes from every proposal meeting. Did you sense that what was written aligned with how that potential partner does business – or did you see red flags? Were they open in their responses or did they never quite answer the root question? Be sure to understand how they will report program performance and regulatory compliance. All of this offers insights on how collaborative and trusted your interactions will be.
Beyond references, we know it can be difficult to assess how a service provider will do on the job. That’s one reason TKA pursued our ISO 9001 certification, a third-party verification that we’ve developed and adhere to the highest-quality standards. You don’t want to wait until your worst-case scenario – when a patient is harmed by a piece of equipment – to learn your provider doesn’t align with your quality mission. This certification reinforces our commitment to quality and consistency across every hospital site, which translates into giving administrators confidence into our performance.
3. Look beyond today.
Commonly, a hospital will engage an external HTM partner for three, followed by perhaps two one year extensions. In our industry, that’s pretty much a lifetime, as medical technology jumps ahead exponentially every year. You don’t want to be running a modern hospital with a tech crew anchored a decade in the past. That goes for ensuring the biomeds assigned to your hospital remain relevant on today’s equipment and where it’s headed, including a growing attention on risks created by cybersecurity as hackers gain access to patient devices.
In simplest terms, you’re not hiring the HTM partner you need tomorrow, but for the one you want keeping your equipment humming and current nearly a decade from now. That means you want a provider who can actively participate in your annual capital planning cycle, as you decide where to spend wisely on future medical technology. Find out how your bidders see that role (read: is it another cost?), and then incorporate it into the original contract.
And suppose, during that contract term, you buy next-generation medical devices that require expanded biomed training for maintenance. Do you know from the RFP who will pay for that training? Or, if the manufacturer requires you to sign a year of direct service, how will that additional contract be paid? Who covers the cost of managing that contract? Take this time to understand how you can leverage future capabilities and services developed by the provider. Discuss now if those will be included under the initial contract terms or if you will need to negotiate an addendum.
4. Don’t buy more than you need.
Be aware of the upsell for more services than your hospital needs. I’m going back to my car analogy to put this in some perspective. You can load in every single feature these days. Suppose you live on the southern fringes of Florida or Texas. Do you think you’ll ever need those seat warmers that a colleague in Maine or Wisconsin would consider a need-to-have? Fundamentally, you know the asset catalog, patient profile and service capabilities of your organization. Use those to shape the basics for what you need in your HTM program.
5. Be open to truly change.
Sometimes, an RFP is an exercise in assessing the performance of the incumbent provider, either the in-house team or your existing partner. We get it. You want to validate that your existing program is optimized and performing at industry benchmarks.
But this is our business. Don’t discount what you learn from bidding providers when you issue an RFP, especially if you are handling HTM internally. Be ready to act when you learn that you have untapped opportunities with your HTM program when you receive industry responses. We understand the mental calisthenics of working through what it would take. Onboarding the right partner will deliver exponentials gains every year. The right HTM partner will ease that transition for you.
How we can help
My goal at TKA is to offer the greatest transparency in both this RFP process and our response. We try our best to be upfront in answering every question, because we can’t operate at our best if we don’t have an open, two-way dialogue with our partner hospitals; that relationship starts the moment we respond to an RFP. If you’re planning for an upcoming RFP for your hospital’s HTM program, download our checklist, which helps you level set your responses and clearly pick the best option for your hospital, providers and patients.
George Hampton is president of TKA.