Wound Care Articles and Insights

The Difference between Vendor and Partner…and the Significance of an Old-School Handshake

The Difference between Vendor and Partner…and the Significance of an Old-School Handshake

Shortly after I founded Wound Care Advantage more than 15 years ago, Bob Trautman, CEO of Lancaster Community Hospital, took a chance on us. He signed our first wound center contract and we started what became a long and rewarding partnership.

For the next decade, I worked closely with Bob and he became a trusted mentor, showing me what it took to form a strong partnership and what it meant to live up to something more important than just a contract. We both believed in the integrity of an old-school handshake — an unwritten agreement that governed how you would honor each other and work together.

About 10 years ago, during a period when reimbursement for hyperbaric services suddenly dropped, Bob and I joined forces to reduce charges while still ensuring an equitable deal for both parties. In those early years, several of our contract “wins” stemmed from Bob’s personal recommendations. Every time I ran into him, he would ask if there was anyone he could call on our behalf, to let them know what a “horrible” job we were doing.

Bob and his leadership team often looked to us for insights and advice when they were tackling a hospital issue, even if it was outside the scope of wound care. If our team or any of our resources could assist with a solution, we were happy to help as part of our partnership. In return, we developed a strong relationship that enabled us to test ideas and innovations, obtain honest feedback, and work together for the benefit of both organizations.

Over the last decade, many of our competitors saw the growing wound care industry as a “land-grab” and aggressively focused on rapid-fire expansion and acquisitions. This proved to be a successful approach, with one organization ultimately reaching over 800 centers. However, it was clear to me that we were different. I didn’t measure success by the number of centers we worked with. Instead, our success was based on the clinical and financial outcomes for each of our partners. Our pathway to differentiation needed to be based on developing strong, collaborative relationships with hospitals. We wanted to be the best – not the biggest.

By purposely choosing our partners carefully, and by customizing our approach for each organization based on their specific needs, I felt that we had a sustainable and beneficial model designed for the long term, especially during uncertain times when the healthcare industry landscape, reimbursement processes and hospital needs would undoubtedly change. I was right.

Early on, we developed a tagline that we still use today: “Your Best Partner in the Wound Care Industry.” I knew then, just as I know today, that a partnership approach only works well if both parties make a joint commitment to helping each other be successful.

We developed five “Rules of Engagement” that had to be met by a hospital before we would agree to a partnership, and those rules are still in practice today:

  • The leadership of the hospital must have a passionate focus on patient care.
  • Their values and focus on compliance must align with ours.
  • Their leadership team must conduct negotiations honestly and fairly.
  • They must have a need for our specific approach with a shared vision for their center.
  • The top leadership of the hospital must be engaged and committed to the center’s success.

Recently, I read an excellent paper distributed by Becker’s Hospital Review entitled The Partnership Playbook for Hospital CFOs, which made me reminisce on that first contract with Bob. The article focuses on the importance of developing meaningful partnerships vs. simply contracting with a vendor. The article identifies a “like-minded vision” as the most important characteristic for a successful partnership. Oddly enough, that’s the number-one rule of engagement at our company.

A vendor works for a certain price, for a specific need, and within a limited window of time. A true partner is cost-neutral, provides substantial value, always operates with integrity, and tailors services in order to meet current needs.

After 15 years, I’ve learned that a contract doesn’t make a partnership. A mutual commitment to your partner’s long-term success and looking out for their best interests before your own is what makes it work.

I believe now more than ever is the time to look for partners rather than vendors. Make sure the handshake means something to both of you.