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5 Must-Have Qualities in a Hospital Business Partner

While ROI is important to hospital C-suite executives, they measure it differently than in other industries and are more focused on outcomes, safety and quality. Vendors that can explain and document how their offerings support the Triple Aim are well positioned to succeed. Here are some tips and observations for how companies can improve their approaches to working with hospitals.


1. See the Problem Before You Offer Your Solution
To make the short list, vendors shouldn’t focus on why their solution is best in the category. Instead, focus on how it can help the hospital achieve its strategic objectives. Position technology and services as enablers, not full solutions.


This approach requires knowing what is important to the hospital. Annual reports, press releases and other public information sources provide a good starting point for individual hospitals. At a higher level, the top five concerns shared by U.S. health system executives in 2017, according to a survey by The Advisory Boardi, are:


  1. Improving ambulatory access (cited by 57 percent of hospital and health system CEOs; it ranked only sixth in 2016)
  2. Innovating approaches to expense reduction (57 percent)
  3. Boosting outpatient procedural market share (55 percent)
  4. Minimizing unwarranted clinical variation (53 percent)
  5. Controlling avoidable utilization (49 percent)


2. Health Care isn’t an Industry of Technology, it’s Relationships
Hospital CIOs are not in the market for technology, or even “solutions.” What they want most from prospective vendors is guidance on how technology can best support organizational goals and the need to transform.


As Ed Ricks, CIO of Beaufort Memorial Hospital in Beaufort, S.C., said at an AHA Health Forum Partner Summit: “Health care isn’t an industry of technology, it’s relationships; it’s people. I don’t want to be an IT shop; we do a lot of IT things, but we’re not a data center, we’re a hospital. So you have to have a culture that supports that and work with people who feel the same way.”


3. Know Where You Play in M&A
Between 2010 and 2016, partnerships among hospitals and health systems, including mergers and acquisitions, increased by 55 percentii. At the same time, 69 percent of health care executives said they would be pursuing M&A in 2017iii . Consider promoting your solution as a way newly merged operations can consolidate their systems and processes to achieve consistency and continuity of care.


4. Flexible Financing and Solutions
A growing number of hospitals cite the cost burden of implementing, maintaining, and upgrading EHRs that meet federal requirements for Meaningful Use a top IT challenge. According to AHA Data’s webinar on the State of Hospital IT, five years ago, roughly half of hospitals cited this as a top challenge. Now, 60% do. The data reveal that hospitals need financial assistance with these mission-critical technologies.


If this is something with which your organization can help, consider how you can partner with your hospital customers to come up with creative financing arrangements that could lessen the burden.


“Hospitals buy some very expensive applications, like EHRs, that have typically been packaged with the infrastructure and storage needed to run the system. That led to a lot of silos,” John Quinn is founder and CEO of Merrimac Solutions, said. “CIOs are now standing up for their infrastructure. They don’t want to have to integrate a lot of silos, they want to be able to buy only the components they need.”


Technology vendors can satisfy this emerging demand by being flexible with their offerings. For example, they can offer software only; or software plus infrastructure, with the choice of infrastructure being sold, leased or managed, and provided on premise or in the cloud. Be careful not to oversell the cloud as an advantage, even though hospital cloud computing adoption is growing. Hospitals remain wary about the cloud, and having a cloud-based solution may not necessarily be seen as a selling point.


The only way to know whether cloud or any other technology or service is a good fit for a hospital is to get to know its needs and goals. Half of U.S. hospitals currently do not have a clear digital business vision and strategy, and almost all are seeing the effects of digital disruption.iv Hospitals need solutions, but they need perspective first.


5. The Most Valuable Thing You Can Do is Listen
“When you walk into a meeting, the most valuable thing you can do is listen,” said Matt Primack, COO of Advocate Christ Medical Center, speaking at an AHA Health Forum Partner Summit event. “What are they trying to solve? What are potential solutions you can create, even if they’re not exactly the service you offer or the product you design? You want to be their partner in solving that problem.”




i  Becker’s Hospital Review “5 biggest concerns for health system executives in 2017” April 6, 2017
ii Kaufman Hall “Hospital Merger and Acquisition Activity Continues Upward Momentum, According to Kaufman Hall Analysis” January 18, 2017.
iii EY “Global Capital Confidence Barometer | 15th Edition” Accessed April 17, 2017 from
iv Harvey Nash – KPMG 2016 CIO Survey.


About the Author


Kathleen Wessel, Vice President Business Development, AHA Health Forum


Kathleen Wessel is the vice president, business development for AHA Health Forum, a wholly owned subsidiary of the American Hospital Association. Ms. Wessel is an accomplished healthcare executive with 20+ years of successfully designing, leading, and executing a broad range of growth and realignment initiatives.


In her current role, Ms. Wessel oversees account teams and delivery strategies. Responsibilities include creating and executing strategic marketing and sales support plans.