For many hospitals and health systems, COVID-19 has tested the limits of their organization’s supply chain and vendor management policies. Hospitals and other facilities were forced to adapt on the fly to navigate unexpected supply shortages and frequently changing COVID prevention guidelines, all while working to protect the health and safety of patients, staff, and visitors.
While we aren’t out of the woods just yet, vaccine distribution is underway and should help slow the rate of new COVID cases. That means that for the first time in more than a year, facility leaders have an opportunity to review their organization’s policies in preparation for what lies ahead. Here’s how the COVID-19 vaccine could affect your facility’s vendor policies.
What we know
For a number of healthcare organizations, the pandemic highlighted deficiencies in their vendor management. Social distancing requirements forced facilities to move more of their operations to a virtual setting, and that includes vendor management: A recent symplr survey found that due to COVID-19, 93% of healthcare supply chain leaders were restricting vendor access to their facilities. The vaccines have given facility leaders some breathing room, and many are rebuilding their vendor management from the ground up in an effort to lower overhead and improve the safety and reliability of their supply chains.
Hospital supply chain leaders verify vendors' credentials in a touchless way,
Post-pandemic, a priority is converting as much of the procurement process as possible to virtual to lower costs and, more importantly, limit the number of vendors who must be on-site. By doing so, facilities will be able to restrict access without as much disruption to the supply chain in the event of another COVID-19 surge. That said, there will always be a need for in-person vendors, and vendor credentialing should play a vital role in every facility’s vendor policies.
COVID-19 vaccination status will likely factor into updated vendor credentialing, and a host of EMR and IT companies have joined the Vaccine Credential Initiative (VCI). VCI is a new project aimed at optimizing COVID-19 vaccination coordination and record-keeping. The goal is to make it easier for individuals to access and share their vaccination records and for healthcare organizations to view those records, no matter what platform they use.
What we need to know
There is still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19 and how it will affect vendor management long-term. The following are the biggest questions that could affect your facility’s policies going forward.
Clinical trials for both the Pfizer–BioNTech and Moderna vaccines showed efficacy rates in the mid-90s, but it’s still unclear how well the vaccines perform under real-world conditions. Real-world rates are unlikely to dramatically differ from those in the clinical trials results, yet the vaccines’ true efficacy is not fully known. It also remains unclear whether an individual must receive the vaccine only once to be inoculated for life or if, like the flu, the vaccine will need to be updated and readministered annually to keep pace with newer strains of the virus.
The possibility of reinfection is also an ongoing concern. The Centers for Disease control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that reinfection cases are rare, but the data we have is incomplete. Someone who contracts COVID-19 twice may get tested only once—or not at all, depending on the severity of their symptoms. Also, most public testing sites only perform RT-PCR tests (i.e., molecular tests, as opposed to antigen tests) to look for current infection, and since individuals in some areas are instructed not to get an antibody test if they are feeling unwell, it can be difficult to identify and confirm reinfection cases.
At least three new variants of COVID-19 have emerged in recent months: one in the United Kingdom, one in South Africa, and one in Brazil. Early research suggests that all three variants are more contagious than the strain that reached the United States last year. Danish scientists estimate that the UK variant, known as B.1.1.7, spreads 1.55 times faster than the original strain. Both the Pfizer–BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are believed to be effective against the new variants, but more data is needed to confirm this.
Until we have more clarity on these questions, your facility (and your vendor policies) should continue to err on the side of caution to ensure the safety of staff, patients, vendors, and visitors.
How to build stronger, safer vendor policies
The pandemic has highlighted the need for healthcare facilities to build more robust and flexible vendor policies. Your organization’s vendor policies need to address the immediate challenges of COVID-19, but they should also be built with the future in mind.
So what does a better vendor policy look like?
1. Keep vendors informed
One of the biggest challenges of vendor management is ensuring your vendors adhere to your facility’s access requirements. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many facilities have needed to update access requirements to comply with CDC and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services guidance; unfortunately, vendors were often kept out of the loop on those updates.
Your facility’s vendors should be considered a stakeholder in your operations, and they should be included in any policy updates regarding visitation, on-site deliveries, or even virtual meetings. The easiest way to do this is to use technology that allows you to quickly communicate any changes to policies or procedures to vendors.
Your vendor policies should also address the common challenges vendors must navigate regarding facility access. For example, if your normal vendor representative is not available, does your facility allow substitute vendor representatives? If so, do they need to have identical accreditation, training, and skill level? Building clearly-established contingency plans—and making them readily available to vendors—will make it easier for vendors to seamlessly adapt to certain challenges without compromising the safety and efficiency of your organization.
2. Ensure credentialing standards cover on-site and virtual vendors
Healthcare organizations are liable for employing or contracting with an excluded person or entity whether the federal healthcare program pays directly or indirectly, and even if the person or entity doesn’t receive payment from the provider for such services. Failing to monitor, manage, or otherwise address vendor risk and noncompliance poses unnecessary and avoidable risks.
In light of COVID-19, there’s an increased prevalence of contractors and vendors who might not need physical facility access. However, the same exclusion- and background-checking requirements remain. Healthcare providers should continue monitoring all actively contracted vendors regardless of whether they need physical access.
3. Standardize vendor credentialing
As discussed in a previous blog, facility access credentialing can vary depending on the state, locality, and even the type of facility. Some of these variations are unavoidable. But from a vendor management perspective, they also often lead to inefficiency and non-compliance by vendor field personnel.
Where possible, your organization should establish a standardized credentialing policy that clearly explains requirements for all facilities across your organization. This baseline, coupled with robust communication about location-specific requirements, can ensure vendors comply with access requirements, which in turn helps maintain patient safety and avoids any potential federal compliance issues for your organization. symplr can provide the guidance and technology solutions you need to help your organization prepare for whatever comes next.
Learn more today about symplr's vendor credentialing software.