Sunday, January 6, 2019

Medical Device Sales Rep Kills the Sale

A few weeks before writing this, two device salesmen came unannounced to our small private gastroenterology practice.  They were hawking a product that could quickly and non-invasively determine how much scar tissue had formed in a patient’s liver, a useful tool for assessing patients with hepatitis and many other liver conditions. 

We are physicians, not entrepreneurs.  We do not regard the colonoscope as a capitalist tool.  Yet, these two salesmen were barraging us with facts and figures on how much money we could make off their product.  They knew the insurance reimbursement rates and could quickly calculate our practice’s return on investment depending upon our projected volume.  They recognized that the cost of their device would be beyond our reach and offered to sell us a ‘refurbished’ product at a huge discount.

Liver Sales Reps Ignored the Liver!

For a host of reasons, we were not interested in acquiring the device, which we could not afford.
Here’s what was so striking.  Not once did either of them mention, even by accident, that their product was a device that might help a human being.   These guys were so clumsy and so transparent that they weren’t even adept enough to feign an interest in contributing to the health of liver patients.  Of course, we would have seen right through this pretense anyway, but at least they would have gone through the motions with the hope that we might not have recognized their charade.

Afterwards, our office manager was deluged with e-mails beseeching us to reconsider our refusal, offering ‘new and improved’ calculations that promised us profitability.  And, borrowing a technique from late night infomercials, they now offered an even steeper discount on a newly discovered refurbished product that was a deal they advised that we should not pass on.

We have many sales folks who come to see us.  Of course, we understand that they are selling products.  But a true sales professional understands his customer, and these guys massively misfired.  We are physicians, not hedge fund managers who regard income generation as our primary objective.  How should salesmen sell to doctors?  When device or pharmaceutical representatives come to see us, they are best poised to sell us on how their wares can help our patients improve their lives.  The product that can sell itself, sells best.  


Anonymous said...

Can you explain in more detail how these salesman actually get access to you during the workday? Do they come in around lunch time and try to talk to you while you're eating lunch? Do they try to talk to you between patients? How do they even get past your receptionists?

In the past I know salesmen used to buy a fancy lunch-spread for the entire office, and its expected that you listen to their sales pitch as a result. But aren't there laws preventing that now?

I imagine something similar happens with drug reps, and they leave free samples to boot.

-- Mark

Anonymous said...

Nope, buying lunch is one thing that is not prohibited, but you have to sign for the lunch and some database someplace will allow anyone interested to see that you had 50 dollars worth of lunch. (I believe this is prohibited by many academic centers as policy, not law.) But we can't get pens, post-it notes etc with the drug name on it anymore because I/we would be too influenced by a 50 cent pen. I too have small GI office and most of the drug reps we know. They come by maybe once a week and leave samples and (increasingly) co-pay/discount cards due to the proliferation of pharmacy benefit managers. (Pharma benefit managers=satan) I have on a couple occasions had a sales pitch for durable goods. More commonly I get a pitch to use their lab for blood or stool tests. My dad was a salesman who made cold calls, so I guess because of this I listen politely for 5 minutes and then they leave. I have never bought or used any of these products and they eventually get the message. I don't see them more than once.

Michael Kirsch, M.D. said...

As to have these guys and gals gain access, here's my take. Over time, their visits for many physicians' offices, and some hospitals have become incorporated into their culture. I know this answer may not be satisfying. And bringing food to gain the foothold has been going on for longer than my own career. They can be a source of useful information, and are always willing to put you in touch with real medical experts, but I am always mindful that they are not true health care pros and their task is to sell products. On some level, even for physicians, we sometimes are ourselves in a 'selling mode'. Why do you think there are so many ads for hospitals and physicians extolling various products, results and services?

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