Who’s really controlling the purse strings? Selling in the new healthcare landscape

If it’s true what they say and the bean counters are now in charge, are healthcare providers (HCPs) still worth targeting? I would argue yes, but you need to know how to support them effectively in today’s world of complex and formal decision-making.

HCPs are valuable. They are able to fight for the products that they believe in, or at the very least, block the ones they don’t. Our clients know this, as do many others – this 2016 report showed that most marketers still rank physicians or specialists as their number one communication target.

However, despite being an invaluable source of experience, HCPs are now just one of several audiences who need to be convinced.

Who’s calling the shots?

The modern NHS is driven, understandably, by accountability. Anyone advocating for a new supplier or product must now “prove” why it’s necessary. HCPs can’t push through innovations simply because they want to try them or because they have a better relationship with the rep. All decisions, especially changes, must be justified in terms of substantial clinical improvement or budgetary-impact.

That’s why it’s so important to understand the decision-making dynamics – the needs, perceptions and motivations of everyone involved. Below, I’ll walk you through just a few of the things you’ll need to consider when talking to key audiences within healthcare today.

In wound care, it’s all about integrity

Specialist nurses are a key audience in wound care, as they are the recognised experts in their field. They’re hands-on and genuinely care about helping patients – and they look for similar integrity from suppliers and reps.

While nurse managers have considerable autonomy when prescribing treatments to patients, they don’t have free rein on what they offer. They follow the relatively strict “formulary”, which is approved by their local medicines board. Changes to the formulary aren’t made on a rolling basis – only if something comes along that is either:

  • Exceptional with proven clinical results (tricky in wound care, as there are hardly any RCDs)
  • As effective but cheaper

You’ll need to get the nurses on-side and provide them with convincing arguments and credible evidence to take to the board. You could add value by offering support, such as training and assistance with guidelines, that local NHS budgets won’t stretch to. Nurse managers are more likely to “fight” for a product from a brand and reps with genuine intentions (they bemoan pushy reps and believe they are trying to “bend the rules”).

In orthopaedics, surgeons often have a lot to prove

Surgeons are still your key audience for joint replacements. They’re in charge of fitting the joints and are personally held accountable for the outcome – so their voice counts.

Your task is getting to the table in the first place. Surgeons are some of the busiest HCPs and you need to demonstrate that you’re offering them something genuinely different and better.

Once there, they will need a seriously strong, evidence-based reason to go with your product, as they are influenced by other factors:

  • Cost-obsessed procurement teams
  • The opinions of peers (they don’t want to be the one who pushed for a mistake)
  • The senior consultant’s brand of choice

Operating rooms must run like a well-oiled machine and any tweak to “routine” introduces risk. The product could fail or unfamiliar tools could lead to a mistake. Any issues, such as metal on metal, could come at considerable cost to the patient, surgeon and department.

Finally, try to make personal connections. Getting your product into surgery is often about removing fears – reassuring individuals that, “John does share your view” and “Sarah was interested in this evidence”, or “Your surgeons have said they’d be happy to accept this product, which will save you money too”

When it comes to imaging, size often matters

Let’s face it, when it comes to big ticket items, there can be a huge difference in the decision-making process.

On the one hand, you have the sexy modalities – the Lamborghinis of imaging – such as CT scanners. They’re expensive, they’re big and they can even require building work, so they feel like an important decision. The bells and whistles might even represent the opportunity to do interesting research that could lead to names appearing in recognised clinical journals. In this instance, the business case must be supported by a raft of decision makers – clinicians, operators, lab managers and buyers – and you’ll need to know how to communicate with each. However, these purchases are so rare that it’s relatively easy to justify ‘the latest tech’ – they won’t be buying another model anytime soon.

Smaller equipment, such as an ultrasound scanner, is a very different story – they’re common, cheaper, simpler and operated by a much wider range of people. To physicians and buyers, they’re just not sexy enough to be interesting. Sonographers, who use the machines every day, may be the only ones who care. To pique the interest of buyers, manufacturers need to clearly demonstrate their point of difference. It may also help to get medical physicists on board from the start, since colleagues often rely upon their greater technical knowledge to inform their decisions.

Make every meeting count

Ultimately, HCPs are responsible for their patients’ outcomes and their opinion is respected within purchasing. However, they are not the only decision makers. With tighter budgets and a focus on accountability, manufacturers must provide a burden of proof that any changes will be worthwhile.

Of course, if you would like to improve how you understand and communicate with key audiences, we’re here to help with a team of insight specialists and communication planners.

Ed Hudson

Ed Hudson

Managing Director

Ed joined Create Health in 2009 to help establish the agency as a leading healthcare marketing business with a reputation for transformative thinking in a challenging and changing sector. He oversees our marketing and business development agenda and leads an ambitious team of professionals that offer a unique blend of strategic, creative and tech expertise. You can follow Ed on Twitter and LinkedIn.