What can break a hospital-vendor partnership? Lack of trust, transparency and misaligned missions 

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The healthcare industry is not immune to the fallout of a failed relationship, whether it be the result of a disagreement between a hospital and vendor or a misalignment of organizational values.

Hospitals and health systems are constantly making choices to enter new partnerships or maintain existing business agreements. Now, as the technology and healthcare industries continue to intertwine, hospitals and health systems are enlisting IT support from major companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft.

In 2019, more than 35 hospitals and health systems formed partnerships with big tech companies for services ranging from cloud platform support to health records features. However, without transparency and trust, relationships between healthcare organizations and their vendors can end sometimes just as easily as they began.   

In January, CNBC broke the news that EHR giant Epic is beginning to distance itself from Google. The company reportedly began telling its hospital clients that use Google Cloud for medical research, data storage and other IT functions, that it will focus on collaborations with Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure rather than Google's platform.

Epic's stance came after Google drew criticism from privacy advocates last November for its relationship with St. Louis-based Ascension. Under the partnership, dubbed Project Nightingale, Ascension transitioned its EHR to Google Cloud, which allowed the tech giant to gain access to data on millions of patients and to help the company develop a search engine for EHRs. Ascension employees reported that patients and providers were unaware data was being shared with Google.

As technology becomes more integral in the healthcare space, Becker's Hospital Review asked three health IT executives: What would a company have to do for you to publicly distance your organization from them?

Tressa Springmann, CIO at LifeBridge Health. When evaluating partnerships at the Baltimore-based health system, Ms. Springmann said she brings it all back to LifeBridge's mission to serve its community. Organizations and companies do not always operate by the same mission, but if differences were to create a trust problem among LifeBridge's community, the health system would address the conflicting behaviors or outcomes, Ms. Springmann said.

"At this point it would be hard for me to visualize something that would result in a public distancing just because similar to personal relationships, those types of positions can become so damaging and so final," Ms. Springmann said. "I suspect it could happen, and I hope I never have to navigate it. But again, I think for these organizations similar to us, they somehow landed at a place where they have some lack of trust or an irreconcilable difference in something that's really core to their mission."

Tom Barnett, CIO at University of Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center. When entering a new vendor partnership, hospitals generally must act in accordance with keeping patients' data safe, Mr. Barnett said. 

"We are the stewards of a patient's data, not the owners of the data," Mr. Barnett said. "As such, all potential business arrangements should be entered into with that specific point in mind. If a vendor or partner then took liberties with the spirit, if not the letter, of a contractual agreement that would concern me and provide a reason to either re-examine or possibly end a partnership."

Rhonda Medows, MD, president of population health at Renton, Wash.-based Providence and CEO of Ayin Health Solutions. Respecting the privacy and security of the patient or consumer is one of the most important factors of a hospital-vendor partnership. Dr. Medows said she would not strike a partnership with a vendor that does not respect the privacy of the patient's data and is not transparent with how they use the information. 

"When you start talking about sharing individual patient or consumer information, we need to be asking for their consent… we need to actually tell them what it's going to be used for, how it will be of help in general and specifically how it will help them individually," Dr. Medows said.

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