Oct 16 2014 by Don Lawrence

5 Steps to Bridging the Gap Between the Medical Device Sales Force and Doctors

Over the past 5 years, the healthcare industry has had a fair share of setbacks when it comes to the marketing and selling of medical devices to doctors.

These setbacks are making it more difficult for device reps and surgeons to maintain their traditionally tight relationship. Specifically, there are 3 major trends in the healthcare industry that are fueling the need for change.

Hospitals are giving reps less time alongside their surgeons in the OR due to security and privacy issues, but also because hospitals are attempting to take back some of the purchasing control in order to cut costs. This is leaving surgeons with less purchasing influence than in the past. A 2013 study showed that 75% of US hospitals now require medical device reps to have an appointment just to enter the hospital, let alone one-on-one time with surgeons in the OR. In addition, 53 percent of US hospitals are now only allowing the medical device sales force to interact with the purchasing department versus directly with surgeons, moving purchasing power away from physicians.
“Kickback” scandals dating back to 2009 have created a new regulatory landscape making it more difficult for reps to win over their purchasers. No longer are there perks for surgeons who commit to using certain devices on their patients, thus leaving the device sales force to get creative in what they can offer as a value-add.
In an effort to improve margins, sales and marketing budgets are being cut, putting the onus on the sales force to find creative and compelling value-adds that will entice physicians to engage.

So what are the steps device manufacturers can take to help their sales force rebuild what appears to be a dwindling relationship with their key influencers? We believe its all about digitization and eRounds is using this paradigm shift to transform the way medical device organizations interact and engage with physicians in order to drive the next wave of growth.

We’ve been up close and personal with medical device reps for some time and we have a few key takeaways to share that will help you bridge the widening gap.

Training and education. The training and educating of surgeons is taking a more important role since this is one area that is a safe harbor when it comes to relationship building.  With new restrictions on what can be offered to physicians, marketing fluff is no longer sustainable and the value-add has shifted to training and professional education. While not a new approach, the ability to do this online is definitely taking center stage. Medical device companies are looking ahead, specifically in the area of mobility, making their reps digitally augmented versions of themselves with a new ability to access, create, and share an astonishing array of pertinent information that can enable faster, better decisions. Companies are beginning to embrace tomorrow’s technology, specifically in the areas of non-traditional age-old boondoggle conferences consisting of golf, branded ink pens, iPad giveaways, cigars and cocktails. Technologies like eRounds are taking hold because they offer a solid foundation for sharing device information, patient cases and images. In a nutshell, we are helping medical device companies and their sales forces get serious.
Find OR-quality time without being in the OR. With hospitals putting more limitations on how much time a sales person can spend in a surgeon’s OR, device companies are scaling back on the number of sales professionals they hire to cover certain geographies. This means fewer reps covering a wider territory, reducing the number of high value face-to-face meetings they were once able to deliver. If device companies can provide a technology foundation that enables 1-to-many education and training, they not only become empowered to cover a wider geography, but to still deliver high-touch engagement with image sharing, collaboration and knowledge sharing.
Get close with purchasing. Get on contract. No more railroading your product into the OR using the surgeon as the battering ram. Ensure you are close with purchasing. If they now control the purse strings, build that relationship. This will ease the awkwardness between you and the surgeon.
Be a valuable and somewhat indispensable resource for the surgeon and the surgical team. Know what is coming out before your implants go in.  Know this in advance and be prepared with the proper removal instruments and advice.  Study up on the pathology and procedure in advance.  Know more about it than what’s expected and be prepared to be a resource for the surgical team.  And be prepared to speak up with confidence if it’s an interesting or rare case.  Be prepared with similar cases or films… but don’t be a ‘know it all’…. just a great resource and an interested party. Technologies like eRounds will enable you to share your expert knowledge and images with surgeons online, in a secure environment.
Integrate into their workflow in a helpful way.  If you can make it easier for a surgeon to book a case with your product, if you can anticipate a surgeon’s needs before he or his team does, or provide a contact for the surgeon that is a peer expert in a relevant area you bring value.  And if you do it consistently he or she will come to rely on you.

By arming a sales force with disruptive technology surgeons become part of a learning continuum with your company and you at the helm.  What appears to be a series of roadblocks between your sales force and your prospective customer is actually just new challenges that purpose-built technology is here to solve. It’s ok if your sales force has limited OR time. Have them share images online and collaborate with surgeons on their time and on their device of choice. Have your sales force share their knowledge and expertise online. Give them the tools to engage with surgeons more frequently online, without having to schedule an appointment. Bottom line, the market disruption has led to some very disruptive technology innovation that can create efficiencies you never thought of.