Guerra On Healthcare: Fixing Difficult Vendor Relationships

Collaboration, communication, and clarity are key to getting companies and sales reps to meet your hospital's IT needs.
Many times, we make the mistake of believing the commonly accepted wisdom about a company or individual -- that it is "hard to work with... inflexible... unfair." But despite the fact that we allude to "a company" as being a single entity, it is, of course, nothing of the sort. A company is really just a group of individuals. And when you work with a company, you work directly with only a few of those individuals, usually one at a time.

So when we talk about a company being difficult, we are really talking about John, your account rep, who doesn't return your calls, doesn't offer anything near the full disclosure you expect, and doesn't even seem to like you very much.

While you cannot wave a cosmic wand and change John, you can do something that may also produce significant results. You may change your behavior toward John. You can give John a better understanding of what you expect in the relationship, and you can tell him, in dispassionate terms, exactly how you would be forced to escalate the situation, if he's unable to help you.

Hospital/vendor relations can be markedly improved if we focus on the level of practical interaction -- person to person. But CIOs should not stop there. The industry is changing so quickly, with even those drafting regulations having little clarity about their meaning, that professionals must collaborate to make sense of it all. Those who cultivate these peer-to-peer relationships, through organizations like the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) and local Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) chapters, go a long way to ensuring that when they call for help, someone answers the phone.

Interpersonal skills are the key to being effective in any endeavor, because in almost all situations we need others to embrace our vision. Key interpersonal skills are similar to those associated with success in any shape or form: honesty, integrity, forthrightness, courage in failure, humility in success, and, most importantly, a genuine respect for the person on the other end of the relationship.

When we respect those with whom we are dealing, we focus not only on our own success, but theirs. Practically speaking, we do not drive a deal so hard they cannot sell it back home, we do not win at the price of their humiliation. In fact, if we look hard enough, there will often be small victories we can hand our vendor/partner or CIO colleague at little cost.

Remember, hospital/vendor relationships are like marriages, long term and having their ups and downs. Divorce in this realm is as painful, in its own way, as in our personal lives, with millions lost. Often, we find our new spouse presents the same difficulties as the old, and thus we are back right where we started, if we're lucky.

When divorce is ruled out as an option, it's time to make the relationship work. Start with getting back to basics, getting back on good terms with the person who, to you, is the company. Make the first move and extend some token of good will, then build from there. Sometimes this is just what's needed to turn a downward-spiraling relationship back in the right direction.

Anthony Guerra is the founder and editor of, a site dedicated to serving the strategic information needs of healthcare CIOs. He can be reached at [email protected]