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Navigating Real-World Challenges in Sterile Processing -- Part 2: Creating a Framework of Professional Expectations for Vendors

[Do your vendors feel like you both are "in this thing together?" Or is there conflict, distrust, and broken processes? The following guest article by Rebecca Lauber, CRCST, CER, CIS, CHL, LSSGB, NREMT seeks to speak into this conversation with part 2 of a 2-part series on fostering collaborative vendor relationships in your facility. You can read part 1 here. We hope you enjoy! * Beyond Clean Editors]

 Written by Rebecca Lauber, CRCST, CER, CIS, CHL, LSSGB, NREMT & Member of the Beyond Clean Advisory Group

In the first part of this two-part article, we discussed the importance of fostering collaborative vendor relationships and considering vendors an extension of the sterile processing and surgical departments. Unfortunately, there are occasions when the vendor is not willing to meet you halfway, putting the preparedness of your trays and the surgeon's ability to perform their cases at risk, ultimately jeopardizing patient care. Many of these vendors remain attached to the hospital, regardless of their poor performance, because of surgeon preferences and a reluctance to explore alternative options. 

In these situations, it is crucial to have a plan in place regarding professional accountability and a vendor policy that clearly outlines the expectations for the vendors. Professional accountability goes both ways. When holding someone to a standard, you must be willing to meet them halfway. Otherwise, their goodwill to uphold the standards is lost, and they will be unlikely to go beyond the basic expectations of their contract. Consider aspects of professional accountability in your vendor relationships and the importance of a vendor policy to create guidelines for your vendors.

Professional Accountability

Accountability is crucial for successful vendor relationships. It's not only about holding vendors accountable but also setting an equal standard for yourself. When issues arise, it's easy to assign blame, but true accountability involves taking responsibility for your actions and committing to working together to find solutions and improve your own performance. 

For example, if a vendor consistently delivers trays late or provides incorrect inventory counts, having a vendor policy that outlines consequences for non-compliance and provides a clear resolution process can help address the issue effectively. Professional accountability is essential for the successful implementation of the vendor policy, as both parties must take responsibility and work together to address issues. 

Most hospitals have a vendor policy to document expectations. A vendor policy should outline clear expectations and performance metrics, providing a framework for accountability. It sets expectations and provides a basis for holding both parties accountable. 

Regular performance reviews and open discussions about areas for improvement can foster a culture of accountability, strengthen vendor relationships, and ensure both parties are held to the highest standards.

Developing a Comprehensive Vendor Policy

A well-defined vendor policy is crucial to a successful partnership when navigating real-world scenarios with vendors. By outlining expectations, requirements, and procedures for vendor engagement, you can ensure consistency and compliance. Here are some key components to consider:

Selection Criteria: Your policy should define the criteria for selecting vendors, considering factors such as:

  • ISO certifications

  • References from other healthcare facilities

  • Proven track record of quality and reliability

  • Product quality

  • Service reliability

  • Regulatory compliance

  • Cost-effectiveness

Contractual Agreements: Clear and comprehensive contracts are essential for preventing misunderstandings and ensuring accountability. Your vendor policy should specify the requirements for these agreements, including:

  • Scope of services

  • Pricing

  • Delivery terms

  • Performance metrics

  • Service level agreements (SLAs)

  • Liability clauses

  • Termination conditions

Performance Monitoring: Tracking vendor performance is crucial for identifying areas for improvement and ensuring consistent adherence to agreed-upon standards. Your policy should outline the processes for:

  • Regular audits

  • Key performance indicators (KPIs)

  • System for tracking and reporting issues

  • Regular performance reviews

  • Quality audits

  • Feedback mechanisms

Conflict Resolution: Conflicts can arise in vendor interactions, whether it's due to delayed deliveries or last-minute drop-offs. Your vendor policy should provide guidance on how to handle these situations, including:

  • Escalation procedures

  • Mediation processes

  • Termination clauses

  • Step-by-step process for addressing conflicts

  • Timeframes for resolution

Compliance and Regulatory Requirements: Your vendor policy should incorporate all relevant compliance and regulatory requirements related to vendor management in the healthcare industry. This may include guidelines on product safety, infection control, data privacy, and documentation. By aligning your policy with these requirements, you can ensure that your vendor relationships remain compliant and protect patient safety, even when faced with unexpected challenges.


In the fast-paced world of sterile processing, effective collaboration with vendors is an absolute necessity. By fostering open communication, mutual understanding, and respect, we can create a more versatile response to day-to-day challenges. Professional accountability is also crucial, including our willingness to acknowledge mistakes and not transfer blame. By genuinely apologizing and improving our own performance, we maintain trust in our collaborative efforts and maintain a mutually respectful working environment. 

When vendors are not willing to meet us halfway, instituting a vendor policy helps ensure our needs are met while opening the door to communication and setting us on the pathway towards a more professional, responsive, and collaborative working environment. A well-crafted vendor policy provides a framework for holding both parties accountable and is essential for successful vendor management in sterile processing.



 If you have comments or questions for Rebecca, you can reach her through Linkedin by visiting her profile here. We'd love to hear your own perspectives and experiences with your vendors in the comments below, or anywhere you find this article on social media. Thanks for reading!


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