Three Minutes in a Doctor’s Office – Applying "Best Practices" From Pharmaceutical Sales
Depending on your source, referrals for home health care from physicians or their offices account for an estimated 15-25% of all home care referrals. For free-standing agencies competing against strong hospital based agencies, it often is the most successful path to choose when looking to build their referral base. Home care agencies, however, need to take heed – targeting physicians for home care referrals can be both a “hard sell” and an increasingly grueling climb upward. The marketplace is crowded with an army of pharmaceutical and medical device representatives – all clamoring for a few minutes of a physician’s time – and marked by increasingly limited access to physicians, especially for home care marketers or liaisons.
Yes…your home care agency is competing with pharmaceutical agencies!
Home care agencies find themselves competing against pharmaceutical companies in order to gain just a few minutes of a physician’s, or his office staff’s time. These “pharma” companies invest in intensive and expensive “wooing” backed by their significant training resources and marketing muscle just to gain a few minutes of face time with a physician. Many a liaison can tell you how often they are forced to “cool their heels” in a physician’s office while a small army of pharmaceutical representatives glide in and out. To illustrate just how crowded the physician market is becoming, here are some composite figures pulled from research studies completed by pharmaceutical sales industry experts Scott-Levin Inc., INCOMM and Datamonitor:
- On average physicians see 10 representatives a month
- Currently there are about a 100,000 pharmaceutical reps in the United States who see over 830,000 physicians.
- A pharmaceutical rep will often target 120 physicians to be seen on a 1 week to 2 week cycle.
- Scott-Levin also estimated that pharmaceutical companies spend about $100,000 in promotional spending for every 11 physicians!
- An INCOMM study of 500 pharmaceutical reps identified how much time a representative typically gets with a physician during an office call: 26% said less than one minute, 63% said two minutes and 11% said three to five minutes.
Limited physician time, limited physician access
With hospitals and large practice management companies increasing the pressure on physicians to reduce the time devoted to activities not related to patient care, physicians (and their gatekeepers) have no choice but to limit the time they spend with marketing and pharmaceutical representatives. Physicians are also “time-challenged” by the demands of an aging population. It is estimated that by 2011, most doctors will spend at least half of their time caring for older patients. Some of this time will not be billable, and “frequent flyers”- patients who call their physician’s office frequently or require a lot of attention from their primary care physician, will continue to put a burden on the practice.
What does this mean for Home Care Marketers?
The “Aging of America”, business realities of running a practice in a managed care environment, and marketing clout of pharmaceutical companies has created a unique environment for home care agencies in regards to marketing services to physician practices. In particular, pharmaceutical companies have saturated the market to the point that physician practices have been “conditioned” to expect certain things from all health care marketers.
Here are some examples of this sales conditioning and suggestions on how to more effectively market home care service:
Physicians have been “conditioned” to expect marketers to be well prepared
Successful marketing to physicians is not a haphazard, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants proposition. Home care marketers operate in a complex world where they must craftily weave numerous three-minute meetings into long-term and “referring” relationships. Pharmaceutical companies spend significant money in training for their sales representatives, often providing elaborate sales “scripts” and “word tracks.” Home care agencies should also encourage their marketers to develop their own scripts, “elevator pitches” and open ended questions.
Physicians are “conditioned” to expect expensive “wooing”
The deep pockets’ of pharmaceutical companies has created a marketing environment where gaining access to a physician and their staff often involves providing meals or lunches. Unfortunately, physician practices are not able to discern the regulatory environment that home care offices operate under. This can be tricky for home care marketers. Be very, very careful in providing lunches to physician practices. Elaborate lunches can be construed as an inducement to refer. Make sure that if you are find yourself squeezed into a tight spot and feel a need to provide some sort of “refreshment”, that you are also providing good educational information about home care in general, or other valuable health or patient care related information, and not just about your agency in particular.
I suggest you take the time to evaluate what you really get out of “lunch and learn” programs. Many large practices will have lunch provided to them on a daily basis, by some vendor or another. If you ask a key staff member if they had lunch brought in on the last day they worked in the office, and they cannot tell you who provided them with lunch, I can almost guarantee that this a strategy that will NOT yield referrals to the agency.
Physicians are “conditioned” to expect “regular” call cycles
Physicians and their staff see particular representatives on a routine basis. They have come to expect this. Although it may not be practical for a home care agency representative to see a physician as frequently as on a two week cycle, home care marketers can build physician relationships by having a routine, or call cycle, set up. The call cycle should be based on days that the physician or key staff see representatives, and most importantly, the marketer must be disciplined to maintain the routine. Your marketing visit will eventually come to be “expected”. To be successful at this, the home care marketer needs to build an “action plan” based on a call cycle, or a plan with action items or deliverables that the marketer provides on their call cycle. Providing a simple list of the patients the agency has seen each month, “referral feedback,” detailing specialty programs, outcomes data, and other industry information can be part of the “deliverables” that a home care marketer provides within their call cycles.
Physicians are “conditioned” to expect marketers to build relationships within the entire practice
Although physicians have the ultimate “power of the pen” in their exclusive ability to certify orders for home care services, it is often other staff members who actually direct home care referrals. Office Nurses, office practice managers, surgical boarders and physician extenders such as nurse practitioners or physician assistants usually are key targets for home care marketers to cultivate a relationship. It is important for home care marketers and liaisons to have a good Contact Relationship Management (CRM) system in place to help them keep track of all the contacts within a practice. It also makes sense for a home care agency to participate in events where these individuals go to receive industry updates such as local chapter meetings of the Medical Group Management Association or other practice management educational forums.
Physicians are “conditioned” to expect marketing materials that are directed toward them
Many agencies fall short of providing their marketers with all the tools they need to do their job. Many marketers are expected to build relationships with physician practices armed only with a business card and a brochure. It only makes sense that a marketer will need several pieces of collateral to support a call cycle as described above. To make matters worse, their brochures are often written with the consumer in mind, not the physician. Physicians respond best to materials that are clearly directed to them, with important information delivered in a concise headline and bulleted format so they can quickly g the most important information.
Pharmaceutical companies will often “post” or tack up their formulary information in designated areas. We recommend having information about making home care referrals, such as criteria under Medicare, when and how to make a home care referral (to your agency of course) that is “branded” with our agency’s contact information. Spending a little money on this piece to have it properly designed and professional looking can go a long way in gaining referrals.
Physicians are “conditioned” to expect marketers to be an educational resource
It can come as a surprise at how much of an opportunity exists to educate physicians on home care services. For example; Ask your marketer or liaison how often a physician or one of their staff members has said, “Well, we just let the hospital take care of the home care referral.” Your first reaction to that statement may be that the practice intends to refer only to the hospital based agency. But look a little deeper! What about patients that need home care and have not had a hospital stay? Clearly, there are many practices that don’t understand that home care services can be provided to patients being seen in the office without a recent hospital stay. Provide these practices with information about criteria for home care, plus common diagnosis or conditions of patients they see in the office that may warrant home care services.
Physicians are “conditioned” to expect and appreciate “specialty programs”
In fact, findings from a Scott-Levin study of 6,000 doctors found that over 60% of the reps they see are “specialty reps” and 90% of those physicians preferred to be visited by a specialty rather than a general sales representative. Even for home care companies that are generalists, having a specialty program can be key to generating referrals from physician practices. Physicians will often need a reason to make that first referral and a specialty program can be that huge reason to refer. And we all know that the first referral is always the most difficult to acquire!
Physicians are “conditioned” to expect that you will make it easy to refer
Having tools such as fax referral forms, on-line referral forms, physician portals, a dedicated intake nurse or “point” person, can be great ways to make sure that physicians or their staff always have a great experience in working with your agency. Your marketer should ask the office staff how they prefer to make a referral and then have several referring options available. Whatever you can do to make a physician or their staff’s life easier and not waste their time will go a long way in building your relationship with them. And always, a simple “thank you for the referral” can go a long way!
These are just a few suggestions that can go along way in developing a better ROI for agencies that use liaisons or marketing representatives in calling on physicians. To learn more sign up for the webinar, “Home Health Marketing Basics: Physician Marketing” at http://www.novaetus.com