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Changing Clinical Practice –The Key to Medical Sales

The strongest growth in med tech comes when your new technology is integrated into daily use at the clinical customer. The more your product is used, the faster your business grows. If you have a consumable associated with your product, driving usage is the only way your business grows.

There is a bit of a dichotomy in the way med tech customers buy new technology. The decision to buy, or even to try, is generally made by physicians, administrators and clinical leaders. They are trying to solve a big picture problem around clinical outcomes or cost of care.

However, the people that actually use the product, the nurses, technicians, therapists and other specialists are focused on the single patient problem, the workflow problem, the I don’t have time to learn something new problem. Getting the product into daily use means winning over these stakeholders and changing the current routine.

One of the most useful ways to think about how to evolve the daily routine is the Lewin change model. It has been around for almost a century. The model describes three phases of driving change: unfreezing current practice, moving to the new practice and refreezing the new practice. Most evaluations and implementations are focused on phase 2 – how to change practice – but if you don’t unfreeze and refreeze you are likely to fail in creating a permanent change.

Unfreezing is basically a sales process, but this time focused on the daily users of the technology. Unfreezing means asking questions about their current practice, both to acknowledge that change is hard and respect their current approach, and to understand where there are obstacles that need to be cleared. Yes, you sold the hospital on the big outcome value proposition. Now sell the user on the outcome benefit for them.

Freezing is assuring that the change is practice sticks. Sometimes this means rewriting hospital protocols. Sometimes it means making sure your product is easily accessed in the unit supply room. It always means monitoring and reinforcing the education that created the movement to the new practice, including coming back to reeducate the three nurses that were out on vacation during the in-service, and leaving resources to train new staff as they join the unit.

Just like any other sales process for new technology, changing clinical practice requires understanding the hospital process. Ask questions about the last successful technology adoption. Ask questions about the last failure. Find yourself a change champion.

A change champion is the person who drives change in the organization. It may not be the manager or clinical unit head. It may not be the person who decided to acquire your technology in the first place. It may be the unit supervisor, the educator, or rank and file department member who is seen by their peers to be the smartest person in the room. Ask who is the expert on the latest new technology, who led the charge on the last practice change or guideline development, watch who everyone listens to when they ask a question at the in-service. Make this person your champion and coach in driving a change in the hospital clinical practice.

Another Lewin technique – the force field analysis - is a useful way to build your plan to change clinical practice in each particular situation. This is a methodology to articulate and visualize the specific forces working for and against change. By identifying the specific forces you can build a specific and effective plan to truly unfreeze, move and refreeze clinical practice. I like doing these on an excel sheet. They are useful at all points of the change process.

Changing clinical practice is a different sales process from selling the big picture outcomes and results. It requires time, listening to the customer and a thoughtful respectful approach, and does not have the immediate gratification of a big PO. However, it is worth the time and effort to build and implement a scalable reproducible process. Changing clinical practice is key to driving sales, solidifying your business, and protecting it from the competition. Make it core competency, build tools and train the team. It is an investment that will yield huge returns.

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