Inside the AHA’s Product Endorsement Process

Inside the AHA’s Product Endorsement Process

AHA’s Product Endorsement ProcessWithout a doubt, 2010 has proven to be one of the most dynamic years that the healthcare field has seen to date—and more changes are just around the corner. Healthcare reform is shaking up the field, impacting everyone from doctors and patients to hospitals, healthcare facilities, and medical technology vendors. As hospitals continue to be pushed to improve efficiency without compromising the quality of patient care, they are also grappling with operational issues such as reducing risk and exposure.

Advances in new products and technologies have drastically improved operational efficiencies and patient safety over the years. Identity tracking, incident reporting and management, electronic medical records, and risk assessment software are just some of the innovations that are improving patient outcomes—and making hospitals safer and more efficient. However, the growing number of technologies and mergers and acquisitions has also put a strain on hospitals in terms of researching the market and vetting the best products to fit their needs in areas such as finance and operations (risk management), information technology, human resources, patient flow, and others. Hospital procurement departments or broader purchasing committees must comb through vast amounts of advertising materials from vendors with claims about performance and capabilities that are difficult to verify.

Addressing Market Needs with Innovative Solutions
Thirty years ago the American Hospital Association (AHA) saw hospitals struggling with physician liability issues that were increasing hospital risk and subsequently the cost of care. In response, the AHA created a subsidiary organization, AHA Solutions, to assist hospitals with finding products and services that provided liability coverage. Since that time, AHA Solutions has greatly expanded its reach to include identifying and endorsing products across many operational areas within the hospital, including workforce and culture, patient throughput and experience, cost containment, IT infrastructure, regulatory compliance, and operational improvement—all in the name of making hospitals run more efficiently.

To achieve its goal of supporting hospital operational improvement, AHA Solutions developed a comprehensive process through which it identifies and endorses products that are best aligned with meeting the challenges hospitals are facing today. Because of its position with the AHA, its strong relationships with hospitals across the nation, and its intimate access to C-level and departmental leaders, AHA Solutions is uniquely positioned at the epicenter of the healthcare field. Through the AHA Signature Due Diligence Process™, the organization is helping to drive the product and service innovation that hospitals require to meet the changing demands in the marketplace.

Regular discussions are held between AHA Solutions and a “Voice of the Customer” panel of member hospitals to better understand the solutions they have in place, how they are working, and what the holes or gaps may be. It is this unique insight that enables AHA Solutions to understand the issues being faced by hospitals today. Coupled with the objectivity it is able to provide, hospitals have confidence in AHA Solutions’ ability to streamline the due diligence and product selection process with endorsements.

Understanding the Process

Request for Information
The AHA Due Diligence process is both intense and multi-faceted, with the goal of uncovering all there is to learn about both the solution provider and the product itself. To begin, companies seeking endorsement must complete a very detailed request for information (RFI). This RFI is created utilizing the knowledge and expertise of an Advisory Panel made up of CIOs, CTOs, CMOs, chief medical directors, and chief nursing officers from member hospitals. This team of in-the-field individuals is able to share insights regarding the everyday challenges and needs of hospitals, and plays a significant role in enabling AHA Solutions to more critically evaluate products.

While AHA Solutions does not endorse companies, just products, it does recognize the role that the company as a whole plays in terms of culture, direction, and innovation. As such, the RFI extends beyond basic feature/functionality questions. Part of the goal of AHA’s trademarked Signature Due Diligence Process is to understand everything from financial strength and customer service rankings to marketing capabilities and pending litigation.

A team of AHA Solutions staff narrows the RFIs and invites a select group of vendors to advance through the full AHA Signature Due Diligence Process, two important aspects of which are in-person interviews and references. Both AHA Solutions and participating vendors sign a non-disclosure agreement, ensuring that all shared information is kept confidential.

Healthcare quality and safety software provider, RL Solutions, is one such vendor to participate in the AHA due diligence process, ultimately earning the AHA endorsement for its RL6 Risk Management Solution. “During our interview, the AHA team posed difficult questions that extended well beyond the typical feature/functionality product demo,” commented Sanjay Malaviya, president and CEO, RL Solutions. “We were asked to clearly articulate the benefits to the field, community, and even the specific roles within the hospital during the interview.” It was during this interview process that the RL Solutions’ team began to truly understand that an AHA endorsement was not simply about the capabilities of its RL6 product, but about the company’s commitment to the healthcare field as a whole, and what RL6 could do to perpetually improve hospital operations and safety.

The AHA Solutions team doesn’t just listen to what the prospective companies say about themselves; they want to know what their customers think. Therefore, a critical part of the endorsement process is references. Companies are required to give a mixture of references from long-term hospital clients to new hospital clients, large-scale users to more limited users. “We provided a list of current clients,” noted Colin Hung, vice president of alliances and marketing, RL Solutions. “During the one-on-one phone interviews with our clients, the AHA Solutions team included questions pertaining to operational benefits, organizational staff and innovation, culture, and results.”

Final Selection
Throughout the AHA Signature Due Diligence Process, the AHA Solutions team weighs/scores responses, often through email and phone conversations. From there, a limited number of vendors emerge as frontrunners.

For RL Solutions, selection as a frontrunner meant involving a variety of people across departments. “What started out as a product initiative expanded to include a variety of individuals across our sales, marketing, and alliances teams and, because of the amount of resources it required, we spent time debating internally if the endorsement was worth it,” according to Malaviya. “But, in the end, the intensity of the process served to demonstrate AHA Solutions’ commitment to the healthcare field—a commitment that we as a company also share.”

The final endorsement decision is based on a variety of factors. The product must meet the field needs of AHA’s broadest base of hospitals—those in the mid-market. In addition, the company selected must demonstrate the deepest commitment to the requirements of the endorsement, including educational and cultural compatibility.

Demonstrating Value
The term “endorsement” is used in all industries, at times very loosely. Unlike other endorsements that may simply serve as a rubber stamp, the AHA endorsement confirms a commitment to improving the healthcare field. These endorsements provide outstanding benefits, both to hospitals as well as to solution providers.
For hospitals the advantage is clear. AHA Solutions identifies the critical issues, researches the solutions to address those issues, and undertakes the comprehensive due diligence so hospitals don’t have to. Knowing that a product or service has undergone such a rigorous review saves hospitals time, money, and resources in the research and selection process. Perhaps even more valuable, by developing close relationships with the AHA through educational forums, the “Voice of the Customer” panel and other initiatives, the voices of hospital leadership can be heard in the market.

Solution providers that earn AHA endorsement benefit from instant credibility in the marketplace, having aligned with an industry-leading, 130-year-old organization representing more than 5,000 healthcare organizations and hospitals. Because endorsements are exclusive to one product in a given category, it is an immediate product differentiator. While it does not guarantee the selection or sale of a product, it certainly differentiates a company and its solution. Leveraging the endorsement through cross-marketing campaigns, including educational webinars, peer-to-peer hospital convening events, e-marketing promotions, and industry conferences/tradeshows are common among endorsed vendors.

RL Solutions has found perhaps the greatest benefit of its RL6 endorsement to be access to AHA member hospitals. “The endorsement has opened up a new market to us, not just for selling but for gathering critical information on the healthcare field,” Hung stated. “We are now teaming up with AHA members for thought leadership panels and webinars. We hope to leverage the AHA connections to further improve our products and services by reaching an audience that would have been difficult to pull together prior to our association with the AHA.”

Investing in the Future
Endorsements are typically awarded for a period of three years and are non-transferable should a company be merged or acquired. After the three-year period, an endorsed company may re-apply for endorsement. During the three-year endorsement, AHA Solutions is actively engaged with both the endorsed product company as well as hospitals using or considering using the product. AHA Solutions regularly monitors its endorsed products’ performance to ensure that the product or service is up-to-date and adjusting to meet market demands. The team monitors installation and customer issues that arise. Additionally, if a hospital is experiencing customer service problems or other issues, they can contact AHA Solutions directly. The AHA Solutions team then acts as an advocate on the hospital’s behalf, going through the solution provider to directly address issues and get things back on track. This is not only important to the hospital, but also ensures constant innovation on the part of the solution provider.

AHA Solutions was formed with the intent to improve the operational performance of hospitals. While it is a for-profit arm of AHA, the majority of its revenues are reinvested into AHA’s policy and advocacy efforts, as well as supporting free education and peer-to-peer information exchange meetings designed to keep dialogue open in the healthcare field.

Looking Ahead
AHA Solutions has seen a growth in its endorsements and anticipates that growth will continue as the need for endorsed products and services continues to expand —especially as hospitals continue to grapple with the most dramatic healthcare reform in our nation’s history. In light of healthcare reform, AHA Solutions is taking a more proactive stance to provide hospitals with field knowledge and education; as well as working with hospitals to identify and prioritize their main operational issues. Subsequently ensuring their expanding portfolio of endorsed products is squarely aimed at helping hospitals navigate changing regulatory and operational requirements.

AHA-endorsed products and services will continue to assist hospitals in addressing healthcare reform issues like continuity of care, meaningful use, and increased accountability by filling in operational “gaps”; empowering hospitals to meet growing challenges efficiently while simultaneously improving the quality of care. Additionally, as the continuum of care expands beyond the hospital to include rehab centers, long-term care, and home healthcare, sharing information is going to become increasingly critical. Solution providers that offer AHA-endorsed products and services that streamline communication and data sharing across a wide spectrum of interrelated healthcare organizations will be well positioned to help hospitals address these issues.

Tony Burke is senior vice president at the American Hospital Association and president and CEO of AHA Solutions. Burke has more than 20 years of business marketing experience.  He has served national clients at one of the world’s leading marketing/communications firms and managed financial communications for a Fortune 50 consumer product company in Chicago. Most recently, he was principal of his own marketing consulting firm in Chicago, where he counseled AHA Solutions, as well as other local and national organizations. Burke helped develop and launch the National Healthcare Career Network to assist in meeting the staffing challenges in healthcare and also created Healthcare MarketMPact, a consulting service to help incubate innovative healthcare products and companies. Burke earned his degree in marketing from California State University at Fullerton. He is a member of the Healthcare Financial Management Association, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development, Health Care Compliance Association, and American Society of Association Executives. To demonstrate his commitment to health and wellness, he founded the Proactive Kids Foundation, to provide much-needed nutritional, physical and psychological support to obese children and their families. He may be contacted at

A subsidiary organization of the American Hospital Association, AHA Solutions is focused on improving the operational performance of the nation’s hospitals. Among its programs are the Signature Learning Series of issues-focused educational, convening and peer-to-peer information exchange events; AHA endorsements awarded exclusively to products and services believed to best meet hospitals’ most critical challenges; the National Healthcare Career Network, connecting healthcare employers with two million highly qualified members of more than 200 trade associations and professional societies; and Healthcare MarketMPactSM, a strategic consulting group ensuring that products and services are viable, valuable contributors to improving hospitals’ performance. For more information, please visit

RL Solutions designs innovative healthcare software for patient feedback, incident reporting and risk management, infection surveillance, and claims management. At RL Solutions, nurturing long-lasting relationships with our clients is what we do best. We have more than 600 clients, including healthcare networks, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and more. RL Solutions is a global company with offices in Canada, the United States, Australia, and the UK. For more information, visit