A pair of partnership agreements announced in recent weeks between substance abuse provider associations and an information technology vendor came across to many observers as a novel activity in the behavioral health technology arena, but for the participating associations they reflect a trend in member benefits that has been apparent for several years.
Just a couple of weeks after finalizing an exclusive partnership agreement with the group State Associations of Addiction Services (SAAS), Nashville, Tenn.-based Qualifacts Systems, Inc. announced this week that it had come to a similar agreement with its first state-based association under SAAS’s umbrella: the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association (IADDA).
Under the agreements, association members will be eligible for discounted pricing for Qualifacts’ electronic health record (EHR) system. However, the “exclusive” nature of the arrangement in no way precludes an association member from purchasing any vendor’s system that it might desire. In this context, exclusivity means only that these associations will not enter a similar partnership with another company during the term of the agreement with Qualifacts.
Sara Moscato Howe, CEO of IADDA and also a member of SAAS’s executive committee, says the newly announced agreements reflect associations’ longstanding search for ways to assist members with particularly challenging purchasing decisions. IADDA’s partnership with Qualifacts represents its fourth such arrangement: It has in place similar partnerships with a food service company, a drug testing company and a liability insurance carrier, though laws governing insurance do not allow the latter company to offer discounted rates as part of its agreement.
“What is new here is the electronic health record world,” Howe says. “It is new to our providers, so we began to think, ‘Let’s start looking at the options and see if we can review the products that are out there.’”
David Klements, Qualifacts’ CEO, believes that the company’s national presence and the meaningful use certification for its technology were among the factors that attracted SAAS and IADDA to forming the partnership agreements. He adds that Qualifacts’ experience with collaboratives also played a role: More than 40 percent of Qualifacts’ customers are part of an EHR collaborative that was formed to acquire and implement the company’s CareLogic Enterprise software, he says.
Howe says the Web-based format of Qualifacts’ product also makes it an attractive option for substance use provider agencies that don’t have the kind of capital needed for substantial hardware purchases.
Under the agreements, both provider associations will receive an undisclosed percentage of revenues that result from Qualifacts’ status as an association partner. Howe says the agreement with Qualifacts has a two-year duration. Qualifacts will be negotiating individually with other state-based associations to establish similar partnerships.
Howe says the voluntary nature of the agreement from the perspective of the technology-purchasing providers is important, in that it does not restrict members’ decision-making. “We’ve endorsed Qualifacts as a partner, but this doesn’t mean that members shouldn’t conduct their own assessment,” she says.
In that sense, Howe does not see any downsides to entering such an arrangement, as IADDA prioritizes the effort to maintain contact with other vendors that are not part of partnership arrangements. IADDA’s other existing partnerships are with FoodSource Plus for food service, STERLING Reference Laboratories for drug testing and laboratory services, and First Nonprofit Companies for liability and unemployment insurance. Howe adds that IADDA makes it clear to vendors that it does not seek to be bombarded with requests from various vendors to enter such agreements.
“We’re not trying to sell our membership,” Howe says.
Klements agrees that he sees no negative for his company in entering these partnerships, adding that he hopes it will not impede the various cooperative efforts that behavioral health software companies have undertaken.
He says that recent presentations that he’s heard for behavioral health providers on the topic of EHR remind him that the process of moving to electronic records remains a daunting one for most providers. “Anything that SAAS and its members associations can do to help members get a clearer path to technology adoption is important,” Klements says.