Nicola Richmond of Baxter Healthcare offers some straighttalking advice on selling in the perioperative environment.
The thought of selling medical devices to hospitals is an exciting one. However, the thought of being in the room during brain or open-heart surgery can bring on a host of other feelings. Many of the teams selling into the ITU or theatres have a medical background – but this does not preclude non-medics with a passion for sales from succeeding in this alien environment. What are the professional and personal strategies for detailing medical devices in stressful clinical environments such as operating theatres?
As in all medical sales, you will need a supportive and in-depth induction plan for your product – but in the perioperative environment, you will need to be able to demonstrate and detail your product without materials. Demonstration products are sometimes allowed, but they must be cleaned as per hospital policy and clearly labelled as ‘demo’. Many medical device companies, for legal reasons, will not allow representatives to touch the products they are selling – so you will need to be able to teach and explain without handling. Normally, a refresher course on the equipment is given to the staff before the case starts. The marketing piece still has a strong place in the detail – but you will not be able to draw information from it in the surgery.
It is important to have spent time with all staff who may be affected by your product. For example, recovery staff will need to know about post-operative care, theatre staff will need to know about timings, and electrical equipment will need to be tested by medical physics staff. Many procurement departments will refuse to allow any equipment into the hospital until it has been fully reviewed; even in an ‘individual case of need’, the paperwork must be complete before you proceed. A formal course exists on theatre selling, and some companies subscribe to this.
With the ever-changing lists and situations within a theatre complex, it is not unusual to find yourself starting very early or finishing very late. This should be taken into consideration before you embark on a career in device sales. Your diary needs to be flexible, and a sense of humour is required when you have driven for hours only to be told: “The operating list has been cancelled.”
Simple points to remember
• Make sure you have a clearly visible name badge with your company logo, and that you have signed in. Access regulations vary from hospital to hospital. It is also imperative to follow the hospital’s regulations on patient consent.
• Do not chew gum.
• Wear little make-up and no jewellery. Many theatres have visitor lockers, so take a small padlock for your valuables. Your bag will be kept outside, so put any other valuables in your pockets.
• You will normally only be asked to wear a face mask if you are within a foot of the bed – otherwise, wear a scrub suit and a hat.
Your diary needs to be flexible, and a sense of humour is required when you have driven for hours only to be told: “The operating list has been cancelled.”
• Always use the antibacterial handwash on entering and leaving the unit.
• When you arrive, introduce yourself to the scrub team and explain who has invited you and what you are doing.
• Mobile phones must be switched off. Many device companies provide the sales team with a pager.
• Try to remain invisible to the patient: do not hang about the end of the bed or talk loudly.
• Never enter the anaesthetic room until any patient being anaesthetised is asleep.
• Judge the mood of the theatre by the staff: a radio playing and staff talking are signs that you can talk quietly.
More complex points
• Check all equipment before you start. Always have spares: it is not uncommon for pieces to fall on the floor or become desterilised. If you are in any doubt do not go ahead, and never be afraid to say that you do not know.
• Always be alert to any problem with the case. Stop what you are doing and step to the side of the room. If a serious situation has arisen that has nothing to do with your product, leave the room. It would be sensible to wait outside until the situation is under control.
• You are privileged to learn much confidential information. Make sure you abide by this: do not talk in inappropriate public areas about the patients or type of surgery you have just seen.
• Be calm and confident at all times. If your product is felt to have let down the user, you will be held accountable there and then. Never underestimate how much knowledge you need about your product. It is always advisable to keep all your handbooks just outside the theatre so you can double-check any details.
• Some products will require you to programme and assist with the settings of sophisticated machines, such as pacemakers. Always make sure you have clear guidelines to follow, and that the final ‘switching on’ is initiated by the healthcare professional and not you.
• It is important to have very clear guidelines from your company’s legal and HR department on what you can say, touch or do.
When the patient is awake
Some surgeries and products lend themselves to procedures, such as angioplasty, where the patient stays awake. Your role as an ambassador for your company is never stronger than when the end user is watching and hearing you detail your product.
In many cases, you will be required to follow up with the patient at a clinic or on the ward. It is always necessary to have a member of staff as a chaperone, and for them to make detailed notes in the patient files.
Before a job interview
It is not unheard of for sales people to faint in the surgery – so make sure you are psychologically equipped for this work, and that you can attend an interview for a medical device sales job with a clear example of your aptitude for it.
Many theatres are supportive of representatives watching procedures before an interview for a sales job. The theatre manager, who could be a senior nurse or ODP, would be the best person to approach. A personal recommendation from a colleague working in theatres will help.
If you cannot gain access to a theatre before your interview, why not ask a veterinary surgeon whether you can watch an animal being operated on?
The opportunity to make a real difference to patients’ lives is the main driver for many people who sell in ITU or the theatre environment. Nothing brings the benefits of a product to life better than seeing the results in action.
Why it’s worth it
Visiting stressful clinical environments is well worth the effort in order to reach and understand your market. The opportunity to make a real difference to patients’ lives is the main driver for many people who sell in ITU or the theatre environment.
Nothing brings the benefits of a product to life better than seeing the results in action. And often the teams on the ground bring new ideas or improvements back to the company, thus becoming part of innovation in healthcare.
Once you get a taste for this unique and privileged world, you may never want to go back to traditional face-to-face sales. Nicola Richmond is National Sales Manager for Anaesthesia at Baxter Healthcare. For more details, visit www.baxter.co.uk