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What’s a GPO and How Can It Assist Your Healthcare Enterprise?


Suppose for a moment that you wanted to install a fence in your backyard. As you obtain project bids from various businesses in your area, you begin to realize that the cost for the fence would exceed your budget. Then you have a brilliant idea—you call five of your neighbors and ask if they’d also be interested in getting fences in their yards. Two of your neighbors say they are interested.

When you call your favorite fence company and explain that there will be three neighboring homes getting fences, they lower the cost substantially for each of you. After all, they will already have all their equipment and installers on site, and they’ll get a discounted price on the vinyl fence pieces because they’ll be buying it in bulk for this project.

If you’ve ever experienced a scenario like the one described above, you have successfully leveraged group buying power and secured a better price for yourself and others. A group purchasing organization (GPO) uses the same approach to empower doctor’s offices, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities to work together to get better prices for the products they need.

What is a GPO?

A group purchasing organization (GPO) is a collective of like-minded businesses that come together to leverage their combined purchasing power. This collective approach allows these businesses to negotiate from suppliers better prices, terms, and conditions than they would be able to individually. 

In the healthcare sector, GPOs are primarily composed of hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices. They band together to purchase necessary supplies, from medical equipment and pharmaceuticals to office supplies and services. By doing so, they save not only on costs but also streamline their procurement processes, allowing them to focus more on their primary goal: providing quality healthcare.

How do GPOs work?

A group purchasing organization operates on the simple yet powerful principle of collective bargaining. When businesses unite and pool their purchasing power, they become a significant customer for suppliers, thereby gaining the ability to negotiate lower prices and better terms. Here’s the breakdown of how it works:

  1. Membership – A healthcare provider (Ex: a hospital or clinic) joins a GPO. There might be a membership fee, or sometimes the GPO operates on a cost-sharing model.
  2. Catalog access – Once a member, the healthcare provider gets access to the GPO’s catalog of products and services, which includes everything from medical supplies and pharmaceuticals to office essentials.
  3. Ordering – Members place orders through the GPO, specifying their needs. The GPO then communicates these orders to the suppliers.
  4. Delivery and billing – Suppliers deliver the orders directly to the members. However, billing is often handled through the GPO, simplifying the process for members.
  5. Cost savings – The discounted prices negotiated by the GPO translate into substantial cost savings for the members. These savings can then be redirected to enhance patient care and services.

Remember, the strength of a GPO lies in its numbers—the more members it has, the greater its negotiating power. So, the next time you’re looking to make a significant purchase for your healthcare facility, consider the potential benefits a GPO could bring.

Types of group purchasing organizations.

There are primarily two types of GPOs—horizontal and vertical—and they differ in their structure and the benefits they offer.

  1. Horizontal GPOs – These are organizations where members are from the same industry or sector, such as healthcare. Within the healthcare industry, for example, a horizontal GPO might include a group of hospitals, clinics, or nursing homes. Members of horizontal GPOs usually purchase the same types of products and services, allowing for greater purchasing power and more significant cost savings.
  2. Vertical GPOs – In contrast, vertical GPOs comprise members from various industries. While this might mean a more diverse product and service catalog, the cost savings may not be as substantial as in a horizontal GPO, given the varying needs and purchase volumes of different industry members.

However, be it horizontal or vertical, the core objective of a GPO remains the same—to leverage collective purchasing power to secure better prices, terms, and services for its members. Therefore, choosing the right type of GPO depends largely on your specific business needs and purchasing requirements.

Reasons to join a GPO.

Joining a group purchasing organization (GPO) can bring manifold benefits for your healthcare business.

Cost savings.

One of the most compelling reasons to join a GPO is the substantial cost savings it can provide. GPOs leverage the collective purchasing power of their members to negotiate better deals, discounts, and terms with suppliers. This negotiating power can secure lower prices than individual healthcare providers could obtain on their own. 

These cost savings can be significant, especially for healthcare providers who need to make frequent and substantial purchases. According to research from the Healthcare Supply Chain Association (HSCA), a trade association for purchasing organizations, the strength-in-numbers effect of GPOs helps save the healthcare system about $55 billion a year.

Efficient procurement.

Another significant advantage of joining a GPO is the efficiency it brings to procurement processes. Healthcare providers, particularly those running on tight schedules, may not have the luxury of time to negotiate with multiple suppliers or sift through countless product catalogs. A GPO eliminates this hassle by providing a consolidated platform for accessing a wide variety of medical supplies, pharmaceuticals, and services from trusted suppliers. 

This streamlined process frees up valuable time and resources, allowing healthcare providers to focus more on their primary mission—patient care. The standardization of products across various providers through GPOs can lead to better consistency in service delivery and patient outcomes. It’s like having a dedicated procurement team to handle your purchasing needs, without the overhead costs associated with managing such a team internally. 

In a field where efficiency can greatly impact life-saving services, this advantage of GPOs cannot be overstated.

Access to a broad range of products and services.

A GPO offers an extensive portfolio of products and services, adding another layer of benefit to its members. Healthcare providers need a vast array of supplies, from basic office equipment to specialized medical tools and pharmaceuticals. With a GPO, members gain access to diverse catalogs compiled from various trusted suppliers. This vast array simplifies the procurement process as healthcare providers can find most, if not all, of their supply needs met in one place.

Moreover, due to the extensive network of suppliers, GPOs often have the capacity to provide newer, innovative products in the healthcare field. This allows healthcare providers to stay up-to-date with the latest technology and industry standards, thereby enhancing their service quality and patient care. Hence, partnering with a GPO not only streamlines the procurement process, but also equips healthcare facilities with the tools necessary to provide top-tier care.

Leveraging collective bargaining power.

The advantage of collective bargaining power is one of the central benefits of a GPO. By aggregating the demands of numerous healthcare providers, a GPO can negotiate with suppliers on a scale that individual members cannot. This collective force means that suppliers are more likely to offer favorable terms and prices, due to the volume of business they receive from the GPO’s membership.

This collaboration not only helps to reduce costs but also creates a dominant market presence that suppliers cannot afford to ignore. Consequently, the GPO members, even smaller healthcare providers, have a strong voice and influence in their dealings with suppliers. The power of collective bargaining garners the best deals, terms, and conditions for the members, ultimately leading to better financial control, and freeing up resources that can be used to enhance patient care and services.

On a broader scale, the collective bargaining power of GPOs can even influence industry trends and drive innovation, as suppliers strive to meet the demands of a critical mass of customers. Thus, GPOs not only facilitate cost savings, but also foster an environment that pushes for growth, innovation, and improved patient care in the healthcare industry.

Community and support.

Yet another considerable advantage of joining a GPO is the community and support it offers to its members. The healthcare industry can be complex and challenging, with constant advancements, regulatory changes, and the need for effective patient care practices. Being a part of a GPO community allows healthcare providers to navigate these challenges more effectively.

The GPO community is akin to an extensive network of peers facing similar operational and procurement challenges. This network can provide valuable insight, advice, and innovative solutions to common problems. Members can learn from each other’s experiences, share best practices, and collaborate to overcome shared obstacles.

In addition, many GPOs offer educational resources, training, and assistance to their members, helping them stay updated on the latest industry advancements, regulatory changes, and procurement strategies. This supportive environment empowers healthcare providers to improve their operations, enhance patient care, and ultimately succeed in their mission.

The support does not stop at learning and collaboration. GPOs often advocate for their members, representing their interests in discussions with suppliers and helping to resolve any issues that arise. The backing of a strong and sizable organization can provide peace of mind, knowing there is a dedicated team ready to assist when needed. In sum, the community and support provided by GPOs can be just as valuable as the cost savings they deliver, contributing significantly to the success of healthcare providers.  

In a nutshell, being part of a GPO can lead to substantial cost savings, greater efficiency, access to a wider range of products and services, and a supportive community of like-minded businesses.

Is a GPO right for my business?

So is a GPO right for your healthcare facility? Probably. There is an undeniable benefit from buying in bulk. Otherwise, why would any of us have Costco memberships? (Obviously not for the beautiful ambiance in those cavernous warehouses.)

How to find the right GPO for your healthcare facility.

Just know that not all GPOs operate on the same level. The experts from Healthcare Finance recommend that you re-evaluate your GPO relationship about once every five years. This practice allows you to confirm that the supply chain spend is still relevant and the GPO is connecting you with the right products. The most effective way to get a bead on your savings is with a “market basket.”

“In healthcare, a market basket measures the pure price change of inputs used by a provider in supplying healthcare services by using price data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics,” explains Healthcare Finance. “If the market basket tops 50% of an organization’s spend, it’s helpful to look through each item to see if the GPO is effectively covering those items under contract. If it isn’t, a healthcare organization may want to look at other GPOs that potentially offer better deals.”

Perhaps your analysis will reveal essential values that you’re not currently receiving from your GPO. Truth is, the best fit for your facility might not be a large GPO. Smaller facilities sometimes find that they get more bang for their buck by working with a channel partner, which is a smaller company that belongs to a nationwide GPO.

When a hospital matches up with the right GPO or channel partner, they will likely see 8% to 10% savings for their supply chain. The potential to save this much money certainly makes it imperative that your healthcare facility considers the GPO model and carefully reviews its options before signing up with any given organization.

On the flip side, some experts in the healthcare industry have concerns with the GPO model. Research shared by Modern Healthcare reveals that GPOs can contribute to:

  • Higher prices
  • Drug shortages
  • Stifled innovation in medicine

At the heart of these issues is the fact that GPOs generally receive kickbacks and incentives from manufacturers. Just as there’s no such thing as a free lunch, there’s no such thing as a free product placement in a GPO catalog. With manufacturers paying fees to the GPO, the costs of supplies can go up. Ultimately, hospitals could end footing that bill.

Also, the contracting practices used by GPO exclude some suppliers from participating. This practice can limit the supplies available and keep some excellent products from reaching hospitals. This situation is especially true if GPOs make a manufacturer the sole supplier, essentially shutting the door on innovation and quality from other companies.

Despite these concerns, the GPO model still has a lot to offer the healthcare industry. You’ll just need to exercise caution before signing on the dotted line and make sure you understand how the GPO operates and what their supply chain looks like.

Even after you’ve joined an organization, remember to reassess your membership every five years. This clear-eyed approach will prevent you from getting stuck in a relationship that mainly benefits the other party.

The bottom line.

Group purchasing organizations play a substantial role in the healthcare industry. They present a cost-effective, efficient, and community-driven approach to procurement, which can be a boon for healthcare providers striving to balance financial constraints with the need for high-quality patient care.

While there are concerns regarding pricing and stifled innovation, these can be mitigated by adopting a vigilant approach towards GPO participation. Regular re-evaluation of your GPO relationship ensures your organization continues to gain value from the partnership. Ultimately, the decision to join a GPO should be a strategic one, based on a comprehensive understanding of your organization’s unique needs and the offerings of the GPO.

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