As we recently discussed in our article Changes in healthcare procurement, the crux of the healthcare sales model used to be the relationship between the manufacturer’s sales people and the clinical professionals. They then specified and administered care to their patients. Nowadays relationships are still important but they’re focused on a broader, different set of people with different priorities. As a specialist medical communications agency, we thought it would be worth delving into this change a little deeper.

With procurement decision making at scale, it’s the professional administrators who now define treatment protocols – not clinicians. Clinicians now have varying degrees of influence as advisors only. All decisions, especially any changes, must be justified not only in terms of cost but in terms of value, in other words, clinical efficacy. Health economics is becoming increasingly important – the overall financial impact of a decision to the organisation. For example, if a new piece of consumable equipment has a high cost per item but has a huge impact on successful procedures, then the overall cost of successfully treating each patient may be lower.

Clinicians used to rely on sales people, not only to pick up the drinks tab but also to provide them with product information and clinical data; the internet can now do this for them. Freebies have all but ended too, driven by new regulatory pressure for medics and to declare all gifts and relationships. This begs the question, where does the sales team fit in now?

Sales now has a different role and is sometimes referred to as a product support team. They provide support and ease the paperwork burden; and to provide the health economics case needed to justify change. Rather than professional sellers, the new team might consist of multidisciplinary experts who can educate and influence a broader set of stakeholders, including key opinion leaders, payers, hospitals and group purchasing organisations.

As a specialist medical communications agency, we’re particularly interested in these findings, so we’ve outlined the difference between these relationships then and now in the two diagrams below.