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New approach to procurement finds vendors for e-referral solutions

By Sharon Baker

The System Coordinated Access (SCA) program is leading an exciting initiative to remove inefficiencies and barriers to care by creating a secure, system-wide electronic referral (eReferral) process that will allow information to flow across the continuum of care in Waterloo Wellington.

In order to realize this vision, the SCA program needed to find a partner that could not only design and implement the technological platform, but who also had an understanding of the local health care environment and the ability to use this knowledge to build out a solution that supports the diverse and complex needs of the system. The SCA program is funded by the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network (WWLHIN).

In a collaborative effort, the SCA program, the Waterloo Wellington Community Care Access Centre (WWCCAC) and the WWLHIN set out to secure an eReferral solution using a new approach to procurement.

“We felt we needed a new and different process to find the right partner, a partner that would work with us to build a system that is sustainable and who would be able to introduce innovation as the solution scales,” says Sharon Baker, Director of Innovation Procurement. “We are creating something to achieve certain outcomes, and it’s something that is going to evolve as both technology and the healthcare system changes.”

Based on these unique needs, the evaluation team opted to use an innovation procurement process to find a vendor that met the menu of qualifications. These processes were identified and promoted by the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services (MGCS) through the Innovation Procurement Initiative under the OntarioBuys program.

OntarioBuys makes investments to support innovation, facilitate and accelerate the adoption of integrated supply chain, back-office leading practices and operational excellence by driving collaboration and improving supply chain processes in Ontario’s broader public sector (BPS).

The pre-procurement phase included early market engagement to assess market interest and capacity to respond to a Request for Proposals (RFP), and to seek vendor input on the vision and process.

These included Market Sounding in which the team used a document posted openly on MERX with background and specific questions designed to gauge interest and seek feedback on the proposed approach, followed by in-person market engagement events.

Members of the evaluation team, which included representation from the SCA program, WWCCAC, WWLHIN, Langs, physician community, Community Support Services and other system leaders across the region, partnered with Communitech (the innovation hub in Waterloo Wellington) and the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) Health committee to design two days of facilitated engagement with large and small vendors (including startups).

This helped the evaluation team to better understand the market and create interest in the plan to design a regional eReferral system. One of the key things raised by the vendors at these sessions was the likelihood that a consortium would be required to address all elements of the RFP.

For the RFP, the evaluation team opted not to use the traditional approach of providing a long list of functional requirements and specifications. Instead, proponents were asked to describe how their solutions would help achieve the SCA program’s outcomes and high level requirements.

An evaluation tool was used to assess the vendors’ capacity for innovation and also to provide insight into the potential fit between the SCA program team and the vendor teams.

The top two vendors emerging after the first five steps of evaluation were invited to participate in a design phase as the final evaluation step. The design phase involved three collaborative sessions over a three-week period between each vendor and the evaluation team.

During this time, the vendors were asked to simulate a rapid-prototyping design exercise and develop a solution mock-up. This turned out to be extremely valuable to the overall evaluation and really allowed the evaluation team to see how ideas on paper and in presentations translated into real life products and delivery styles.

The process resulted in the selection of an Ontario-based consortium of Think Research, CognisantMD, and the Centre for Effective Practice (CEP) to lead the design and deployment of a ground-breaking eReferral platform for the Waterloo Wellington community.

“Rather than using a traditional procurement approach to find a technology solution, we used an innovation partnership approach to procure a partnership with a supplier to design and develop an innovative solution that meets our needs,” says Baker. “By entering into a phased contract, we are establishing what we think will be an exciting long-term collaborative relationship with Think Research Group and their partners.”

As part of the System Coordinated Access (SCA) program, this partnership of vendors will work with family physicians, specialists, community service providers, patients and family caregivers across the region to build a technological ecosystem that will enable faster links between patients and healthcare providers and create a more seamless experience when moving from one part of the system to another.

“By using new and innovative approaches, you create the opportunity for new and innovative solutions,” says Lori Moran, SCA Program Manager. “A large part of the success of this procurement is a product of the RFP evaluation team’s incredible hard work and commitment to upholding the integrity and fairness of a truly innovative procurement process that produced results that we feel checked all the boxes we set out to achieve.”

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