Health-care industry reps and patient safety

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Most Canadians do not realize that there is a very high chance that when they go in for a surgery, there will be health-care sales representatives watching their surgery.   Nationally, health care industry representatives (HCIRs) have not necessarily or specifically been required to do anything to protect patients’ safety and privacy.  Actually, what little they have done is not specific, measurable and/or trackable.  Why?  Because they are not regarded as health-care workers and as such may not have updated vaccinations, may not have been trained on respecting patient privacy and may have not have had background checks.  There are no standard guidelines in Canada that address the risks that vendors may have on patient care and hospital safety.

A culture that provides for safe patient environments and workplace safety demands that hospitals address all barriers.  The realm of hospital-vendor relationships involves not only the purchase of goods and services, but also the mutual provision of information and advice.  A common hospital practice that has been generally accepted is to invite, allow and encourage sales representatives, or vendors, into the operating room to help surgeons use new equipment or devices.   From a hospital’s point of view, vendors contribute to the provision of quality patient care by caregivers.  To provide this support and act as a resource, sales representatives spend a significant time in hospitals interacting, advising and shadowing with clinical and administrative staff. 

Every patient deserves to know that all individuals influencing their care (anyone with access to them) are qualified, safe and reliable professionals.  In addition, facilities must know who provides specific services and is currently in the facility.  With the rise of SARS pandemic regulations, vendor management and credentialing must be a focus for every hospital’s administration and leadership.  Last year, hospitals encouraged vendors to get the H1N1 vaccine as they too could get H1N1-infected and subsequently spread the virus while working and doing business in Canadian hospitals.

 Hospitals do have a number of concerns about vendor access to their facilities.  An individual hospital’s practices create confusion, an abundance of needless paperwork and duplication of effort for the vendor.  The result is a lot of variability in vendor requirements across Canada.  For example, some hospitals discourage uncontrolled access as it encourages unauthorized purchases and even impedes clinicians and health-care workers as they go about the business of providing patient care.  Other hospitals realizing how little they know about who is entering their facilities, request that representatives make appointments in advance.  And still, other hospitals demand sales representatives to have updated vaccinations.

In the past, this simply meant that a vendor would have to check in with the purchasing department, sign in, and be given a visitor’s pass to visit the area of the hospital they needed to visit.  However, this has proven to be a fairly haphazard and unreliable method.

Vendor credentialing systems protect hospitals, patients and staff.  They protect patients because the latter are not at risk of unscrupulous persons dealing with them or being in the vicinity, or people that could pose a health risk.  They protect the vendors as well, making sure they go where they are needed in the hospital, are not exposed to unnecessary health risks or ones for which they are not immunized, and can do their jobs free of concern.

Vendor credentialing by a third party, such as VCS Canada, allows hospitals to relay policies to their vendors.  Web-based service can be utilized in acquiring, storing, and even managing the credentials of vendors, which include training documents, records of vaccinations, criminal background check, customized credential documents, and insurance records.

Vendor Credentialing Service (VCS) Canada (www.vcscanada.ca) is introducing a web-based medical technology that enables physicians, supply chain or hospital purchasing directors a quick and convenient means of qualifying, tracking, and monitoring vendors.  And at no cost to the institution, any outside sales, service, and delivery personnel interacting with a hospital employee can be monitored; thereby allowing Canadian patient-care facilities to document and manage the dizzying number of individuals entering their doors for the first time!

The kiosks track each person who enters the hospital by using the internet-based check-in and check-out kiosks.  Badges (with vendors’ pictures) are printed out for those whose credentials match their profiles that are uploaded and individually verified by VCS Canada.  And because the system is web-based and all you need is a computer connected to the internet, any staff member with proper access is able to instantly ascertain which vendors are in the hospital at any given time by simply logging on to the system from literally any location.

Hospitals and hospital boards should be cognizant of the need for public trust and the avoidance of even the appearance of impropriety.  Governance and accountability standards require hospitals to implement a vendor management system such as VCS Canada that can attest to the safety, quality and activities of vendor representatives within a hospital. To foster knowledge and sensitivity to potential issues associated with supplier interactions, hospitals’ need to promote the dissemination of this policy statement to appropriate managers within their organizations, as well as to relevant suppliers.