Vendor credentialing: Look who’s talking

CHICAGO–There’s still talk about a universal vendor-credentialing “passport,” which would give vendor sales reps access to any hospital anywhere in the country. But that talk is mostly among vendors themselves, not their hospital customers. And truth be told, many vendors and suppliers have given up hope that a universal passport will ever be created. That said, they haven’t given up hope that the industry might move closer to a passport than it is today. That was one key takeaway from the recent Vendor Credentialing Summit, held in Chicago.

The Summit was an attempt to gather together all players – vendors, vendor credentialing companies and hospital supply chain executives – to see if they could improve the current vendor credentialing process. As it turned out, just one IDN – Intermountain Healthcare – showed up. True, representatives from Premier, MedAssets, University HealthSystem Consortium, the Federation of American Hospitals and the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) were on hand. But the overwhelming majority of the audience were manufacturers, along with a few distributors (e.g., Cardinal Health, Medline, Claflin Co.) and vendor credentialing companies (VCS, IntelliCentrics and VeriREP, which created the Summit).

The cost of vendor credentialing
Though not directly addressed, the issue of cost loomed large. From small specialty distributors to large, national manufacturers and distributors, it seemed clear that vendor credentialing costs the healthcare system money – lots of it. And it’s not just the time sales reps and their managers spend responding to the many e-mails and alerts they receive every week. There’s also the infrastructure that suppliers have created to try to stay on top of this thing. Among the manufacturers attending the Summit were individuals with titles such as “credentialing manager,” “vendor credentialing liaison,” “vendor credentialing coordinator” and “director of HCIR credentialing.”

Nationwide standardization? Won’t happen, as some attendees pointed out. The primary reason is, few hospitals or IDNs are working toward it. And there are other issues. For example, some states won’t allow companies to release information about their employees’ arrest records; others will. And some reps might not be able to comply with hospitals’ requests for proof of vaccination, perhaps for health or even religious reasons. Dealing with exceptions such as these can be expensive and time-consuming for providers and suppliers.

What’s next?
What’s next? Matt Rowan, CEO of the Health Industry Distributors Association, summed up some key takeaways from the Summit:

  • Standardization with flexibility. There probably won’t be a single set of standards, Rowan conceded. “But standardizing to the extent possible, always to allow hospitals to discuss exactly what they want and need – but with a little less variability,” is a worthy goal.
  • The need for hospital engagement. It’s the only way to bridge the gap between what vendors are experiencing and what hospitals want and expect.
  • Transparency vs. privacy. Can vendor credentialing organizations protect the privacy of the sales reps whose information they’re collecting?
  • Self-regulation. It’s always preferable for an industry to regulate itself, rather than submit to government regulation, said Rowan. That’s why it’s important for the industry to come to some agreement on how vendor credentialing will be carried out.

One other thing became clear at the Summit: A rational, economical approach to credentialing can only come about if providers and suppliers build trust levels. Lack of trust – in addition to liability considerations, of course – is a big reason for the rise of vendor credentialing in the first place.

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