4 Best Practices for a Successful Healthcare IT RFP Process

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The process of drafting and evaluating a software RFP can be an arduous and time consuming task that has minimal impact on the selection of a solution vendor. Given that RFPs are difficult to create, software vendors are typically asked to assist in the creation, or at a minimum provide input, which certainly biases the evaluation criteria from the inception. Healthcare entities should take the necessary time and effort to create RFPs that accurately reflect the needs and requirements of the business and subsequently perform an unbiased evaluation of the submitted proposals. Additional attention to the RFP creation and review process can ensure time savings and a solution that best meets business needs.

Leading healthcare institutions have come to understand that investing in the RFP process can yield significant benefits in terms of building organizational momentum and reducing effort during the development and implementation phases of the project. At times, solution vendors will enhance RFP responses to ensure selection, however the implemented solution may lack functional components contained within the RFP. You must carefully evaluate the final solution specifications and implementation against the RFP to ensure it meets all requirements. If there are any variations from RFP to delivery, vendors should be held accountable and work towards providing a final solution that meets agreed specifications.

To obtain maximum value from the RFP process, healthcare institutions should refine their process to include the following four best practices.

1. Engage all appropriate stakeholders. Many organizations will attempt to limit the number of stakeholders involved in the development and evaluation of an RFP in an effort to quickly navigate the process without creating organizational noise that can side track the process. Unfortunately, many healthcare organizations have learned leveraging this tactic can have serious impacts later in the selection and implementation phases. It is better to include representation from all stakeholder areas upfront, than need to rework a solution at the implementation phase.

Many large specialty practices have begun to implement business intelligence solutions designed to provide more robust information related to areas as mundane as appointment no-shows to highly complex information from research studies. In this scenario, it is extremely important for the RFP to represent the requirements not just of the business operations team responsible for utilizing the information, but also the IT teams responsible for accessing the data and the physician teams that will be conducting research studies.

The majority of an RFP should focus on mapping a vendor’s capabilities to the project requirements and objectives of the end customer. Thus, by involving key stakeholders that will be impacted by the solution, the organization is ensuring that all parties are equally represented and high level capabilities and requirements are thoroughly documented. Thorough capability and requirements documentation early in the process can greatly expedite subsequent design and implementation phases of the project.

2. Focus on end user capability requirements. It is important to remember that the purpose of selecting a vendor and developing a solution is to provide the end users with technical capabilities that solve a business issue. The RFP should focus on these capability requirements.

As RFPs are difficult to create, many institutions attempt to develop a template that is used for every technology acquisition. Purchasing highly complex clinical equipment is very different from acquiring software solutions designed to address business issues such as patient or staff scheduling. When discussing RFPs, one size does not fit all. While technical specifications are critical to the IT department, the RFP should focus on evaluating business capabilities provided by the solution.

3. Invest adequate time in the RFP process. Due to time constraints and resource limitations, many organizations will rush through the RFP process to get to the implementation phase of the project. One key mistake that many organizations make is asking vendors to provide input into the creation of the RFP itself. Often, this input is not or only slightly modified, and is directly inserted into the RFP document. This presents two issues: first, the end users requirements and needs are not well represented and second, the RFP is biased before it is submitted to potential vendors. Although significant time may be saved, the request is no longer an un-biased representation of needs.

Spending adequate time and engaging the appropriate stakeholders in the project can greatly reduce the amount of time spent in design and development. Bringing the key stakeholder teams together early in the process allows users to share ideas and understand many commonalities which may not have been identified in a traditional scenario until the development process. This early idea sharing leads to significant reduction in development time due to the reduction of duplicative efforts. Organizations are quickly learning that resource costs are substantially less in the earlier stages of the project compared to the later design and development phases.

4. Hold vendors accountable to their responses.
Without question, software vendors play a critical role in the RFP process. IT organizations, along with their key departmental stakeholders, must ensure that the appropriate boundaries are established so the RFP document is not unduly influenced and that vendors responses are thorough, accurate and eventually implementable.  Selecting the right vendor is dependent upon accurate responses to the RFP document.

Many institutions issue an RFP to follow the process or to be in adherence with purchasing policies. Unfortunately, without thorough evaluation, the wrong vendor or solution can end up the winner and once implemented, the expected benefits are not achieved. Vendors must understand early in the evaluation process that the implemented solution will be measured against RFP responses and any functionality or capability limitations not identified in the RFP will not be accepted.

With a comprehensive RFP, vendors will be able to understand the unique demands of your organization and provide responses that detail how their solution will specifically work in your environment.

At times, the RFP process is seen as a necessary evil that supplies little value to the overall project. However, involving the appropriate stakeholders, holding vendors accountable, and spending the appropriate amount of time in the RFP process can lead to substantial benefits and goal achievement and greatly reduce the risk of a project not meeting its expectations. Of course, taking these steps also ensures a stronger relationship with the vendor as expectations are more clearly understood and agreed by all at the start of the process. Healthcare organizations that understand these factors will be one step ahead of their competition in achieving measurable results as a product of deploying new software technologies.

Trent Thacker is a senior manager, consulting at Philips Healthcare, North America. He holds a BBA in Management Information Systems from the University of Georgia and is a member of the Georgia HIMSS chapter. Trent has led numerous enterprise wide technology implementations with leading global consulting firms.  He can be reached at trent.thacker@philips.com.

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