Hospitals and healthcare organizations—still treating large numbers of COVID-19 patients while trying to keep clinicians and staff safe—now grapple with when and how to safely resume vendor access and activities. Simultaneously, vendors await instruction so they are ready when hospitals again need them onsite. After all, vendors provide the essential personnel, pharmaceuticals, equipment, supplies, and training required to safely and effectively treat patients and run operational and administrative functions. 

As a result, organizations must prepare now, to the extent possible, for any COVID-19 specific onsite screenings and credentials required as healthcare facilities reopen. 

Communication and standardized recommendations will be the keys to readiness. Supplier companies and healthcare organizations must communicate as openly as possible, sharing information to navigate varying hospital- and state-specific requirements, while ensuring that staff and patient safety is paramount. Establishing standardized recommendations around COVID-19, however, is trickier because some criteria will be new—and regularly evolving—such as what type of personal protective equipment (PPE) will be required. 

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What will the COVID-19 credential be?

Vendors are accustomed to undergoing exclusion screenings, submitting healthcare information, and maintaining immunizations, among other requirements. But there’s no precedent for post-pandemic healthcare facility access screening on the scale presented by COVID-19. 

What we do know:

  • COVID-19 antibody testing has begun, but it cannot predict immunity. 
  • There is no evidence yet that individuals who tested positive and then recover cannot be reinfected with COVID-19.
  • No vaccine exists to date.  

It’s unclear when the majority of U.S. hospitals will resume elective surgeries and other services that were suspended to accommodate the emergent focus on COVID-19. Further, the ambiguity and availability around testing renders it difficult to predict a timeline for enabling access levels equal to those pre-COVID-19. As a result, no single, nationwide, best practice screening credential is emerging for vendor re-entry. 

Vendors: Prepare by asking the right questions

As questions swirl around facility access screening post-COVID-19, vendors can prepare by continuing to share data with each other and anticipating some of the screening credentials to come. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines, as well as those published by the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses, are likely lead sources in setting the precedent for hospitals’ individual requirements.

Additionally, vendors will be better able to navigate a rapidly changing access landscape if the following information is regularly shared by healthcare organizations: 

  1. Which departments/services/facilities hospitals will open access to first
  2. What field personnel (e.g., vendor representatives and technician types) will be authorized to enter first, and which will be secondary or delayed
  3. What generally will be required of vendors immediately regarding personal protective equipment (PPE), proof of a COVID-19 negative test result at a specific yet-to-be-determined frequency, and, eventually, regarding immunity tests or vaccines
  4. What specific types of PPE will be required for access. For example, must face masks be type N95? Will the vendor be responsible for the PPE or must they be hospital-provided? Will the vendor or the hospital incur the costs? Which party is responsible for details of PPE such as performing fit tests and training on proper use?

Challenges from a lack of standardization

Unanswered scientific questions pose one set of challenges to safe re-entry amid the pandemic. However, COVID-19 has elevated another general issue: Vendors often work to prepare their field personnel for access to hospitals in the absence of a single standard. 

Variation exists in key areas including facility access credentials from state to state and within hospitals, in submission methods, and in guidance about cost responsibilities (vendor vs. healthcare system). The overall result is inefficiency. Standardization to the extent possible would create a simple but powerful way to help vendors comply and ultimately help hospitals maintain patient safety and secure federal funding.

Post-COVID-19 solutions 

While answers are in short supply in the short term, there are several long-term solutions to revisit once the emergent situation of COVID-19 has passed. The following are priorities for administrators responsible for preparing field employees to gain hospital access:

  • Automated, regularly shared information about hospital access and screening policies, by hospital and/or system, with recent changes highlighted (i.e., more stringent requirements and/or relaxation of rules). 
  • Reporting about whether there is corporate standardization of vendor credentials or whether local variation is indicated when a health system owns/manages hospitals in multiple states.
  • Online ability to check whether a hospital allows substitute vendor representatives with identical accreditation, training, and skill level—and what steps to take if allowed.
  • Many of these solutions can be integrated via the adoption of vendor credentialing software.

There are challenges in keeping such vast amounts of vendor credentialing data current, but most vendors agree that some information is better than none when it comes to preparedness and serving hospitals’ needs.

symplr can help prepare your hospital system or company today for the re-entry of healthcare industry representatives following COVID-19—or provide assistance and easy to use cloud-based solutions to ensure full compliance long term.

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