5 keys to a healthy Community Connect host-affiliate partnership

Community Connect partnerships offer several benefits for hospitals, health systems, and private practices, from operational efficiency to a more straightforward EHR implementation pathway. But success is never guaranteed, especially if the thing at the very core of Connect extensions—the host-affiliate relationship—is on shaky ground.

That’s the takeaway from a 2020 KLAS report that found that Connect users were 12.5 percentage points less satisfied with their experiences than users who contracted directly with Epic. Many people attributed those lackluster results to poor experiences with the health system host.

These insights shouldn’t discourage Epic customers from offering extensions, nor should they deter potential affiliates from joining a Connect program. After all, EHR extensions have the potential to reduce costs and improve patient data sharing across affiliate organizations—which means these models can bring substantial and lasting value to all involved.

But the KLAS results do speak to the need to nurture host-affiliate relationships and invest in their success. Here’s how stakeholders can do their part to build healthier partnerships, now and in the future:

1. Trust and transparency

Trust and transparency are part and parcel of a successful partnership. A host and an affiliate should share a mission and vision of improving patient care—and they should operate from those shared objectives, even during difficult conversations or negotiations. This creates a foundation that’s essential for good and sustaining communication.

As the rubber hits the road, hosts can prove their commitment to those shared objectives by making governance structures more inclusive. Affiliates should know where they stand, what’s in their control, and how their voice fits into the partnership. When the relationship starts with this kind of mutual respect, it saves a lot of hassles down the road.

2. Clear expectations

Affiliates often worry about losing flexibility and control when entering Community Connect partnerships, and understandably so: They want to maintain their autonomy and don’t want to feel “swallowed up” by the host organization. That’s why they're connecting in the first place.

These concerns make it particularly important to establish expectations before, during, and after the EHR implementation. Early on, partners should be clear about what the project looks like and how the host can respect the affiliate’s desired autonomy.

And while hosts should avoid being too restrictive, remember that it’s a delicate balance: Partnerships benefit when hosts step up to standardize offerings and support for a more streamlined post-live experience. But if the host is too prescriptive and affiliates feel voiceless, it can cause tension.  

Let the contract codify those guardrails. A well-developed agreement can help provide clear expectations and commitments. An ambiguous one, on the other hand, sets you up for failure right out of the gate.

3. Education and training

A robust education program for Connect affiliates paves the way for successful adoption and makes it more likely that you’ll go live seamlessly. A strong training program that continues well past implementation offers all end users—and especially physicians—customized and comprehensive access. This helps to ensure physician buy-in, which is important both during implementation and on an ongoing basis thereafter.

In general, hosts should standardize and templatize educational tools wherever possible while flexing to account for affiliates’ unique needs. When you create a model that scales with your affiliate network, you’ll be much more likely to maintain healthy partnerships for the long haul.

Remember that Go-Live is not the end. In many ways, it is the beginning. Hosts need to consider and include their affiliates in ongoing training efforts for new onboarding, upgrades, and enhancements.

Having a well-organized LMS and education library that affiliates have access to will provide a strong foundation for affiliate self-service. Going the extra mile to include affiliates in any virtual or in-person upgrade training sessions, and even providing more elbow-to-elbow support when needed, will not only help affiliates learn and continuously adopt the EHR but will also strengthen relationships and show a strong partnership.

4. Ongoing service and value

Once the contract expires, Connect affiliates can leave, sure. But getting them to stay requires that hosts become a strategic partner who delivers ongoing value. And that starts at the most basic level: providing good service and value.

Because ultimately, being a host is like being a vendor. If you embrace that role and mindset, you’re more likely to build healthy partnerships. So commit to providing top-notch customer service, just as a vendor would. Ask yourself:

  • Do we have relationship “owners” who serve as liaisons between the organizations?
  • Are we meeting service-level agreements?
  • Are we responding to issues as they come up?

Once those basic vendor processes are in place, you can move beyond service-level tactics into more strategic and long-term discussions. That’s the stuff that makes partnerships last.

5. Regular reporting

Most of the time, host organizations will—or at least should—have a robust reporting system. When reporting from the host follows a reliable cadence, affiliates benefit from that larger organization’s reporting vision, team, and methodologies. This helps to ensure that they, too, can meet quality measure indicators and derive even more value from the relationship.

And again, this goes back to the strength of the partnership: Supporting affiliates with their own attestations builds trust between the two organizations.

Optimizing your Community Connect program

The host-affiliate relationship can make or break a successful Connect program. All too often, stakeholders undervalue the importance of partnership—leading to the dissatisfaction found in the 2020 KLAS survey. But if partners take a nuanced approach grounded in empathy and trust, healthy and lasting collaborations await. 

And by the way, that’s where we can help. 

Topics: featured, Connect/M&A Success, Community Connect

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