harmacists: Find a place in their Rolodex

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

In their daily rush to cultivate referrals among doctors and hospital case managers, many HME providers ignore a stream of potential business sitting right under their noses: the local pharmacy.
"Too many HME providers see them as competitors," said Bob Weir, an HME and pharmacy industry veteran and accreditation consultant. "But the pharmacy market is different. They're happy competitors. As long as they're sure you're a class provider, they're happy to send people along."
With limited knowledge of HME products and even less inventory on the shelves--usually little more than canes, compression hosiery and a blood pressure cuff--many pharmacists have a definite need for an HME partner.
Just ask Bob McNellis. As president and owner of Peaks and Plains Medical Supplies, which has two locations in Spokane, Wash., McNellis calls pharmacies "a very important referral source," resulting in sales of bath safety items, cushions, mobility accessories and other DME items.
"They're very receptive," said McNellis. "We have products they're not carrying and they rely on us for that knowledge."
Jose Silva, vice president of Triad Medical Supply in La Mesa, Calif., said that after a year of calling on pharmacies, those referrals now account for at least one quarter of his business, mostly in cash sales.
The approach that Silva and McNellis take when calling on pharmacies is not unlike the traditional strategies for calling on doctors.
"We send our sales people in on cold calls," said McNellis. "We let them know we're here, drop off brochures, offer in-services, send pizza in for lunch."
Silva and McNellis said they get results calling on pharmacies of all types, including big-box retailers, national chains and independent community pharmacies. They emphasize the need to establish relationships with employees at all levels.
"We even call on the pharmacy techs because they're the ones who communicate with the patient when they check out," said Silva.
On average, 10% to 20% of a pharmacy's patients also need some kind of HME. Given that, you'd think more pharmacies would provide medical equipment, but they don't, said Jack Evans of Malibu, Calif.-based Global Media Marketing, an industry consultant who's worked in HME and pharmacy markets.
"They don't feel they have the time, the expertise or the space," Evans said. "But the pharmacists want to see their patients taken care of, so they're happy to refer them to an HME."
HME providers often greet Weir and Evans with incredulous looks when the consultants suggest marketing to pharmacies. But it works, they say.
"If you keep a high profile and take care of the patient's needs, you'll find a place in the pharmacist's rolodex," Weir said.