How a Health Tech Company Learned to Engage ED Doctors and Nurses and Drive Sales
Key Takeaway: A health tech CEO shares his insights on how to connect with emergency department (ED) doctors and nurses and get their buy-in by learning their jargon, workplace dynamics and specific needs
For sure, it’s critical to have targeted content marketing that highlights your value proposition, lists your qualifications, and conveys your brand.
But the real challenge is connecting with your audience especially if you’re a young company with an untested solution.
This post will look at 6 best practices that helped one health tech CEO engage ED doctors and nurses and gain buy-in and an ED foothold.
Sahil Patel heads up ER Express. Based in Atlanta, ER Express enables patients with non-life/disability-threatening illnesses to hold their place in line for visits to the emergency department or urgent care clinic. Their solution is designed to improve the patient experience and increase efficiency.
In our conversation, Sahil acknowledged early that he received lots of “No Thank Yous.”
If that sounds familiar, you are not alone. Here, Sahil found buy-in a lot less challenging after he began to successfully interpret the group dynamics, jargon and actual needs of the ED doctors and nurses working in hospitals and other walk-in healthcare facilities.
The Six Sales Insights
Start with Clinical Champions
For Sahil clinical champions have played an invaluable role in establishing credibility.
Their candid, supportive feedback enabled him to find a credible voice that resonated with physicians and nurses. In the process of gaining buy-in, he discovered an unmet customer need that helped transform his business.
Sahil: Not only did our advisors open a lot of doors for us, they would debrief after the sales call.
I can recall getting in a rental car, and it would be a long ride home because most often the hospital had said no thanks. My advisors would help me interpret and deconstruct what we just heard. ‘They said no but what they really meant was this.’ This feedback was enormously helpful.
You need someone you can ask dumb questions after the sales pitch. You want to look credible, so you can’t ask those questions during the pitch in front of your prospective buyer.
Read Your Audience Dynamic
Sahil: I’ve worked in healthcare for a long time – but the average person may not be aware of the decision making dynamic among various stakeholders.
It requires an emotional intelligence and understanding that physicians may see it one way and the nurses another. The CFO may have a third perspective.
Coming from a sales perspective, if you’re not emotionally intelligent, your pitch will land with a resounding thud. It’s because you are not connecting with the audience.
Initially, we would go in and say our solution would help bring more patients in the door. And the doctors would be clapping and giving us positive signals. And the nurses would be crossing their arms. This is not what we want. And we would walk out scratching our heads. How can this be? They are working the same ED – one saying they want more patients, and the other saying we have all the patients we need.
What our physician advisors helped me understand is generally most ED physicians get paid by the procedure, and if they see more patients they get paid more. ED doctors are often not even hospital employees – they are independent contractors. But the nurses generally get paid hourly per shift. It can a busy shift or a slow one; they get paid the same. At a leadership level, the CNO and nursing director certainly appreciate that market share matters. But the front-line nurses typically don’t have the same incentives as the physicians.
Our clinical champions made me aware that these distinctions exist. That was why the doctor was nodding, and the nurse was shaking his head.
You need to win over nurses and doctors and appeal to both.
Speak Their Language
Sahil: I’m 39. I have a background in healthcare, but I don’t have medical credentials after my last name. No MD or RN. And when I started, I didn’t know the jargon of emergency medicine professionals.
In a meeting, you don’t always know which questions make you look dumb if you ask. Often, I have had to bite my tongue and nod, and then ask one of my clinical champions after the meeting, ‘What did that mean?’.
You need to understand that different audiences have different languages and priorities. There is a language that an emergency department has unto itself. ED staff will interpret what I’m saying differently than doctors in other departments.
Here is an example. The average lay person will say that I am going to the “ER.” However, emergency medicine professionals are sensitive to the using the correct phrase: emergency department. ‘We are not a room; we are a department. We have a budget and expertise; We go to school to get specialized training. As a sales person, if you walk in and say “ER” instead of “ED,” you have lost some credibility.
You have got to speak the language; it says you’re one of us.
Address Your Customers’ Needs
Sahil: Whose problem are you solving? You have to help make it a win for the physician and the staff.
Many vendors come in and say we improve the patient experience. Everyone wants happier patients. But its how you can deliver a tangible win for everyone who works in the ED — like helping patients change their arrival patterns.
I’m not going to teach them anything on how to run an ED. They have years of experience and best practices. I can stand up there in my suit and tie and say this is going to be good for you. They see me. It’s almost like my mouth is talking, and no sound is coming out. Instead, there is a neon sign over my head saying SALESPERSON BS.
To help us be more relevant to our end users, we’ve actually hired nurses on a part time basis.
It makes a big difference when they come in with us — in scrubs — having worked in the environment for twenty years and discuss how they use our product in their own facility. It says ‘I am one of you. I am a peer; I used this product and was a skeptic too and I will show you how it made my life easier and my patients happier.’
When the hospital signs the contract the real work begins. People want to get trained and coached by people with whom they connect. We have to be consultative. Vendor after vendor come in offering the same old reasons to buy. They come with good intentions but the software workflow is designed with the clinician as an after thought. You can imagine how that goes over.
Not that we have figured it all out. We make lots of mistakes, We don’t always get it right, but we are attuned to our audience.
Be Open to Feedback
Sahil: Our ED referral program is a great example of using physician feedback. Nine times out of ten the doctors would say thanks but no thanks or what else do you have? Not much – that was the end of the sales pitch.
Then one of the physicians said that most people don’t realize that 10 to 20 percent of patients in the ED are coming from another doctor’s office. They show up expecting the ED to be ready for them, but it often doesn’t happen. Many times, the ED doctor doesn’t know the patient is coming. The referring doctor might have called to give the attending ED doctor a heads-up, but that message may not have cascaded to the charge nurse, staff nurse, triage, or registrar. And what happens if a shift change occurs before the patient arrives?. That process is horribly broken. It relies on phone calls and Post-it notes; the message often gets lost.
It was a problem hiding under the surface and no one had an effective, low-friction solution. EHR vendors have transfer software, but they are not intuitive, and not consistently accessible to physician offices unaffiliated with the hospital. Large hospitals have call centers to handle transfers, but this approach is cost prohibitive for smaller, community hospitals. We could not only solve a problem for the patient but improve personal relationships between the ED physicians and the community physicians.
Previously, I thought you call ambulance or show up at the front door. I had not connected the dots on the “side door” – a third door, if you will. You wouldn’t know about that unless you worked in a ED.
You Don’t Need Big Titles
Sahil: Don’t make the mistake of only relying on the advisor with a big title.
Lots of companies are in the patient experience space. But think about it. Who do patients spend the most time with? Often it’s not the doctor. More often it’s the clerk and nurse.
I sometime have learned the most from the staff nurse or receptionist. A lot of the best feedback comes from the front-line end-users.