Ron Richard: Marketing maestro

Sunday, September 30, 2007

As you might expect, Ron Richard couldn’t be more bullish on the future of portable oxygen concentrators. In July, Richard left ResMed, where he served most recently as senior vice president of strategic marketing for the Americas, and joined SeQual Technologies, maker of the 17-pound Eclipse, the only POC on the market with continuous flow. When Richard joined ResMed eight years ago, the sleep manufacturer had good products, a good brand and a good reputation, but it was very engineering focused. “ResMed brought me on board to ramp up the marketing and sales side,” Richard said recently. “SeQual brought me on board to do a lot of the same things: branding, advertising, marketing—everything that goes into making your product more visible.” HME News talked to SeQual’s new vice president of marketing and sales recently about the home respiratory market. Here’s what he had to say.
HME News: What lured you to SeQual?
Ron Richard: The main thing was just seeing the opportunity. With this technology, there is going to be a huge paradigm shift in the marketplace related to oxygen reimbursement, oxygen sytsems, how you manage your patients. And the Eclipse seemed well suited for the future, as least for long-term oxygen therapy.
HMe: What do you see as the paradigm shift?
Richard: There is pressure being put on the stationary systems, particularly with more emphasis being put on the capping of stationary devices down to 24 months, maybe 18 months and going down to 13. With national competitive bidding, you are probably going to see even further erosion of reimbursement in that sector. And based on talking with people at CMS that I know and have visited with, they’re looking at portable devices as a way to reduce healthcare costs because they want patients to be more active. They want them to get out of the home. They’ve talked to patients and interviewed them, and they’ve said they don’t like waiting at home for deliveries. They don’t like having a bunch of tanks lying around. If you look at patients on oxygen, their biggest fear is running out of oxygen so they end up hording 10 or 20 e-cylinders in the garage.
HMe: But even with a portable concentrator, doesn’t a patient have a backup cylinder for emergencies?
Richard: Sure. But they’re seldom used. Most of the time people are getting into their cars, plugging them into their cigarette lighters, taking off and going to the doctors or shopping.
HMe: What needs to be done to make POCs more visible to oxygen patients?
Richard: You need money and you need to look at how you can maximize the exposure with minimal dollars. A lot of guerilla marketing. The Internet is becoming a stronger factor in getting the word out; patients talking about it on blogs and chat rooms and things like that have been extremely beneficial. I think a patient that buys one of these will tell three or four of their friends at a better breathers club so it is also word of mouth that is driving sales.
HMe: Will you reach out and market to oxygen patients?
Richard: Yes. We have been asked by our homecare dealers to start developing 30-second commercials that they can run in their local markets. And by the end of this year we will have marketing material that will consist of direct-to-consumer advertisements, brochures, things they can leave behind in doctors’ offices and clinics.
HMe: Manufacturers market POCs and transfilling concentrators as a way for providers to reduce deliveries and related expenses. I’ve heard CMS also expects to save a ton of money by paying less for oxygen contents. Have you heard this?
Richard: They have already run the numbers. It’s incredible. I met with a CMS adviser and that was one of the key things that he told me: They want to incentivize dealers to get out of the delivery and content business.
HMe: Any plans to move SeQual into the sleep business?
Richard: We already are. There is about an 11% to 20% prevalence in Western countries of patients who have COPD and are on CPAP. A lot of our patients use the Eclipse because it delivers continuous flow and is compatible with positive airway pressure.