Request for Proposal

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A request for proposal (RFP) is a critical element of the selection process for any major capital investment for a healthcare system (e.g. purchasing an electronic medical record (EMR). The RFP is a more formal agreement between a healthcare system and the potential vendor. The healthcare system clearly articulates its needs to the vendor, and the vendor illustrates how its services will benefit the healthcare system. The RFP often includes pricing information that cannot be disclosed, and in turn, the healthcare system may disclose information about its business that the vendor cannot make public. An RFP should be distinguished from a request for information (RFI). An RFI is useful in obtaining preliminary information from multiple vendors. There is no binding contract between the healthcare system and the vendor in an RFI.

Elements of an RFP

The following is not an exhaustive list of what in included in an RFP, but some of the key components[1] This highlights the utility in using available templates to develop an RFP.

  • Confidentiality statement between parties involved
  • Introduction and purpose statement
  • Description and scope of the project
  • Project timeline
  • Vendor profile and requirements
  • Method and time frame on response from the vendor
  • Description of the needs of the organization
  • Rubric for grading vendors
  • Estimated costs
  • Support from the vendor

Strengths of Writing an RFP

The process of writing an RFP, albeit tedious, has multiple benefits for the organization. To start the process, an organization must bring together stakeholders to discuss and focus the project. These discussions are essential in prioritizing the functionality required of the vendor, and lead to a clear articulation of the needs of the organization. These needs should be ranked in importance prior to communicating with a vendor[2]. The RFP will also allow for a standardization of the questions to vendors. A well written RFP will communicate these needs to the vendor, and aid in lowering the risk of overlooking the shortcomings of a vendor, as well as, requiring the vendor to put in writing its promises to the organization. The RFP can also improve the buy-in from the key financial players of the organization increasing the success of the project[3]. Given the complexity and importance of the RFP, it is recommended to use a template. Fortunately, several templates are available for Health Information Technology [4][5]

Pitfalls in Writing an RFP

Organizations can fall into a few traps while trying to write an RFP. If the scope of the project is not well defined at the beginning of writing the RFP it is likely to suffer from “scope-creep”. This in turn can cause the project to go over budget and/or detract from the original objective. It is also important to verify the vendor prior to engaging in an RFP [6].

Use Case for an RFP

Evaluation of an EHR Vendor

An evaluation of desired electronic medical record functionality is an important first step in the development of the request for proposal (RFP). Forrester Research has developed an evaluation tool made available through the California HealthCare Foundation. These and other tools assist in listing desired EHR functions that will be part of the RFP. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) Center for Health Information Technology has tutorials on selection of EHR’s that also assist in the “pre-work” required before a specific RFP can be developed. Developing a “features list” for the RFP is facilitated by comparison of different vendor offerings. These are available through membership in various professional organizations such as the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society ( HIMSS Ambulatory EHR Selector), the AAFP’s (Center for HIT product reviews) , the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Clinical Information Technology, or the American College of Physicians.

Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology

The Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT) can also offer assistance in determining desired EMR functionality that should be part of the RFP. Additionally, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services sponsors the Doctor’s Office Quality – Information Technology (DOQ-IT) program which offers direct assistance in EHR implementation planning through medical review organizations in various states such as North Carolina or California. Specific evaluation tools funded by DOC-IT are available through MedQIC. Certain states have established similar initiatives through the Improving Performance in Practice (IPIP) program of the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation.

Evidence from Holbrook et al indicates that a rigorous approach to EHR selection involving clinical usability, data quality, and vendor maturity was associated with successful implementations. Development of an RFP should be expected to be part of such a detailed process. This implementation methodology has been the basis for technical assistance in EHR implementations.

Adler KG. How to select an electronic health record system. Fam Pract Manag. 2005;12:55-62. Holbrook A, Keshavjee K, Troyan S, Pray M, Ford PT. Applying methodology to electronic medical record selection. Int J Med Inform. 2003;71:43-50.


  1. Finnell J, Dixon B. Clinical Informatics Study Guide: Text and Review. 2016.
  2. Ciotti V. The request for proposal: is it just a paper chase? Healthc Financ Manage. 1988;42(6):48-50
  3. Calvert P, Read M. RFPs: A necessary evil or indispensable tool? The Electronic Library. 2006;24(5):649-661.
  6. Anderson B. Top 5 mistakes of RFP writing. Applied Clinical Trials. 2009;18(6):64-66,68.

Submitted by Bryan McConomy