Credibility essential for S & P referrals

Sunday, February 29, 2004

No matter what segment of the seating and positioning market a provider serves - pediatric, power or manual seating - the key to building business is establishing credibility in the eyes of referral sources. That means gaining favor from the two primary decision-makers: physical and occupational therapists.

Although providers shouldn’t generalize when it comes to marketing strategies geared toward these professionals, they do share some commonalities in their preferences, seating system manufacturers say. When seeking a seating and positioning provider for their patients, OTs and PTs look for clinical credentials first, said Joe Ticer, director of mobility and rehab sales and marketing for Atlanta-based Graham-Field.

“It’s a matter of mutual professional respect - OTs and PTs are looking for people who have placed the same emphasis on education that they have,” Ticer said. “They see a certified rehab technology supplier as someone who is a clinical resource for them - someone who is part of their care team as opposed to just being a sales rep.”

Scott Higley, vice president of sales for Exeter, Pa.-based Quantum Rehab, agrees that promoting credentials carries a lot of weight with referral sources, but added that providers also need to show they have something to prove.

“Clinical credentials are important, but they have more value at an initial meeting with a new contact,” he said. “It lets them know you have knowledge. It will open doors for you, but it won’t keep them open. You have to show that you are putting your knowledge to work. Otherwise, it’s just a piece of paper and letters at the end of your name.”

When it comes to equipment, therapists are looking for an RTS who can serve as a trusted resource for them, someone who knows the finer points of each moving part, Ticer said.

“They want someone with a depth and breadth of knowledge that goes beyond clinical conditions,” he said. “They want someone who knows all the manufacturers’ brands. Someone who can explain why manufacturers make changes in products and compatibility between units, such as which switch controls work with which recline system.”

Fluency in seating systems should also mean more than just knowing how to set them up, Higley said.

“It means providing the little extras, like showing how a client can get more than just functionality out of a product,” he said. “It means showing how a pressure management cushion works differently for each client. It means versatility on knowledge of contoured seating, cushions and seat interfacing. Show the whole picture. If you can do that, you’ll have an advantage over your competitors.”

The key to explaining how pressure mapping works is by having cushions designed to fit all clients’ needs, whether they be quadriplegics, paraplegics, spinal cord injury patients or elderly, said Rosalyn Jordan, RN, field clinical manager for Eatontown, N.J.-based Hunt-leigh Healthcare.

“All of these patients have different pressure needs, which means you need more than just one product available,” she said. “If one manufacturer can provide the range of cushions you need, that’s great. If not, you need to find other manufacturers.”

Simi Valley, Calif.-based Freedom Designs requires its providers to have certified RTS’ on staff, which makes the importance of education obvious, said Tyler Robuck, vice president of strategic planning. Besides knowing the intimacies of clinical care and equipment, they need to be fluent in coding and reimbursement issues, he said.

“Referral sources are looking for providers who know they will get paid so that they’ll be around to service the patient,” Robuck said. “With the industry in its current state of flux, that aspect is crucial.”

Referral sources are always looking for the best clinical care possible for their patients and providers have a duty to deliver on that promise, Higley said. But he also urges them to make preserving their profit margins a priority.

“Too often when I speak to providers about money, they tell me they think ‘profit’ is a dirty word,” he said. “I tell them that a dirtier word is ‘bankruptcy.’”

Conducting in-services for referral sources is an essential part of the seating and positioning business and manufacturers say it’s one of the best ways to make connections. Not only are joint presentations with manufacturers effective, sponsoring CEU courses help fill a growing educational void in clinical circles, said Kevin Coleman, sales manager for Varilite/Cascade Designs, Seattle.

“Getting continuing education units are a big challenge for them - they aren’t covered by hospitals very much anymore,” he said. “In fact, it’s a good idea to attend seminars together. That way you can discuss it afterwards.”

Novel new products, such as Austin, Texas-based Barton Medical’s positioning and transfer system, are especially conducive to demonstrations, said Rick Hensley, vice president of marketing.

“Ours is a demonstrative product that referral sources need to see,” he said. “It gives the provider a good reason to contact them and say ‘Listen, I’ve got a new device - it’s not for everyone, but it’s great for those who need it.”

PTs and OTs may share some sensibilities, but their perspectives can also differ. The provider needs to recognize these differences and handle them accordingly, Ticer said.

“There are some PTs and OTs who have tremendous product knowledge – some even know more than the manufacturers,” he said. “Others will defer to the RTS for expertise. Don’t assume that those who are right out of school have done seating and positioning before. They need a resource the most.”

Therapists have a tendency to make regular career moves, so Ticer recommends that providers maintain contact with them from job to job.

“Turnover is high in their profession and providers can use that to their advantage,” he said. “They may move some place where your company doesn’t have penetration. They can pull you along and expand your market.”
Category: Seating & Positioning
Key Referral Sources: Physical therapists, occupational therapists, PT/OT assistants, kinetic therapists, case managers, discharge planners, rehab centers, head injury clinics, non-profit associations (such as the ALS and MS societies).

Effective Referral Techniques:

- Emphasize the clinical expertise of staff, such as rehab certification and establish your company as part of the patient’s clinical team.

- Learn as much as possible about the equipment – that includes brands your company doesn’t carry.

- Use inservice sessions, CEU-eligible seminars and trade shows as an opportunity to cement relationships and introduce new products.

- Demonstrate capability with funding sources to earn referral sources’ trust. Seek out case managers’ assistance on funding options.

- Don’t assume all referral sources have the same level of expertise or product preferences. Become a resource for those new in the field and keep tabs on them when they change jobs.