Healthcare News & Insights

Effectively managing and tracking healthcare facility visitors and vendors during the COVID-19 pandemic

Managing your vendors and visitors may have been simple at one time, but no longer. In this guest post, Julie Walker, senior VP and general manager of a company that provides healthcare facilities with governance, risk management and compliance SaaS solutions, offers ways healthcare facilities can effectively manage and track entrants while guaranteeing the safety of its community.

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An efficient, compliant, holistic visitor and vendor management system ensures the safety of patients, staff, visitors and even an organization’s reputation. While the management of vendors and visitors may seem like a straightforward process, using an inadequate system can have profound consequences should the worst occur. Ensuring an organization isn’t overlooking the critical role of both its vendor and visitor management during – and after – the COVID-19 pandemic is more important than ever. Hospitals and healthcare facilities are busy places with a constant flow of staff, patients, vendors, volunteers and visitors — and healthcare organizations are responsible for the health and safety of everyone on-site.

While many large healthcare organizations have a visitor management system in place that requires patient visitors to sign in at a reception area, others are just beginning to realize the importance of trackable, consistent visitor management as part of a holistic access management strategy. While vendor credentialing has become vital to the operation of large healthcare organizations, visitor management is often still low-maintenance and paper-based, which can leave organizations vulnerable to individuals skirting the system to gain entry to facilities and patient care areas. In the midst of COVID-19, this risk should be a priority for facilities driven by high-quality patient care and safety. Simply put: If anyone can enter your facility, everyone is at risk. This lesson should hold even more weight during an ongoing pandemic.

Additionally, while vendors are a central part of a facility’s day-to-day operations, understanding the best-practice precautions to put in place to ensure they aren’t introducing health risks are also crucial to maintaining patient and staff safety. Vendors entering a facility during a pandemic to provide essential services may also have legitimate personal healthcare concerns and fears about being exposed to COVID-19. The more a healthcare organization does to control and track outside access to its facility and patient care area, the more stable the entire facility ecosystem can be, and the more all members of its healthcare community will have confidence that the right measures are being taken.

5 ways to manage and track entrants

Here are five ways healthcare facilities can effectively manage and track entrants while guaranteeing the safety of its entire community during the current crisis and beyond.

Evaluate your visitor management strategy

To the uninitiated, visitor management may look pretty clear-cut. Still, unlike staff and vendor credentialing, which involves lots of paperwork, visitor management is simply tracking who comes in and out of the facility to see patients. A simple paper sign-in log used to be a solution. Today’s institutions, however, need to have a system in place that not only protects the safety of its staff and patients, but also ensures compliance.

Review and update credentialing and access procedures

Managing the hundreds or thousands of daily entrants who pass through a healthcare facility is an enormous task in and of itself. The consequences of improper screening and verification can negatively affect everything from an organization’s patient safety and quality of care to its compliance and efficiency. Add in the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and health systems are presented with increased risks that require organizations to scrutinize those entering their facilities even further.

While healthcare facilities will have varying requirements for their vendor management system, an essential function of any system involves verifying credentials. Effective credentialing tracks multiple moving parts – including background checks, exclusion screenings, vaccinations, updated training and facility-specific policy compliance. Crises such as COVID-19 can expose weaknesses in systems, including how ineffective it is to manage all vendor credentialing requirements using a manual system. It’s important to ensure credentialing doesn’t take a back seat during any point of a pandemic, especially when staff responsible for hospital policy compliance are working remotely.

For visitors, a strong visitor management system makes checking visitors simple and easy when operations are normal. Alternately, during pandemics or emergency situations, it can help a facility lock down specific departments, or the entire facility, from visitor access to ensure the safety of all.

Set best-practice safety standards

Facility leaders should review the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines with internal and external partners, and continue to keep all parties informed as those guidelines evolve throughout the pandemic. Vendors must be updated regularly about changes to facility guidelines, including personal protective equipment (PPE) usage and social distancing protocols, prior to entering the facility to ensure they’re prepared. If possible, ask vendors to acknowledge they’re not exhibiting any symptoms during the check-in process and ensure information is appropriately noted.

Additionally, due to the reliance on self-reporting, it’s vital to train staff to understand the symptoms and indicators, as well as proper next steps in the event they encounter someone with symptoms, to reduce panic and minimize additional exposure.

Communicate approach and policies clearly

The best way to keep operational needs moving is to ensure clear and fluid communication as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. It’s essential to emphasize to vendors and visitors the health and safety of everyone depends on vigilant self-reporting until a vaccine or treatment is available. Within a vendor credentialing system, facilities may choose to develop a COVID-19-specific vendor policy that outlines the symptoms and indicators of the virus and have vendors agree they won’t visit the facility if they exhibit any symptom. In addition to outlining a policy, facility leaders should send mass communications to vendors reinforcing the policy’s guidelines and asking for their participation in minimizing unnecessary risks, as well as updating them on any ongoing changes to policies or procedures.

Look past the pandemic

Due to the pandemic, many facilities have been forced to create “essential vendor” lists to ensure that access for these critical members of their operation can gain access. However, it’s important to keep in mind that a facility’s essential vendor list is a living document, and just as other safety and precaution guidelines will change over time, organizations will also need to review and update who can and can’t enter the building. Whether it’s during the peak of the pandemic or the downturn, it’s crucial to ensure no one indispensable is being excluded and that onsite staff input is being considered.

Healthcare organizations can expect the pandemic to change the industry’s landscape. While the “virtual vendor” working entirely from home is commonplace during the pandemic, this trend may continue past the pandemic. Even if vendors are working with an organization remotely, it’s important they maintain credentials and aren’t considered OIG-excluded individuals that would impact the organization’s ability to access CMS funding.

The responsibilities of supply chain, compliance and security professionals in charge of vendor and visitor management are even more critical in our current environment. By streamlining visitor management systems, healthcare facilities can reduce unnecessary visitor and vendor interactions, and proactively manage access, ensuring essential personnel, patients and all visitors are protected.

Julie Walker is Senior VP and General Manager of symplr’s vendor and general credentialing, visitor management, and workforce management businesses. Julie partners with healthcare organizations to help them achieve their goals in compliance, safety and security, while reducing risk.

 

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