12th March 2020

Understanding NHS change is key to customer engagement

Oli Hudson, content director, at Wilmington Healthcare, which runs the Digital Learning Academy – the leading online learning platform for the life sciences industry – explains why medtech sales teams need an in-depth knowledge of the NHS transformation agenda.

Singular possession of extensive product knowledge is no longer enough for medtech sales representatives. To successfully engage with clinicians and key stakeholders in finance and procurement, they also need to be fully conversant with the seismic change that is occurring within NHS service design and delivery.

For example, they need to understand how both horizontal integration between individual hospitals – and vertical integration between hospitals, community, primary and specialist care – are enabling the NHS to pool resources and staff, and aggregate purchasing. Integration is also helping the NHS to provide more holistic, population-based services as set out in the Long Term Plan.

These changes are bringing a host of new stakeholders, some of whom may have overlapping roles, as well as new lines of accountability and decision-making units.

Keeping abreast of change

Wilmington Healthcare, which runs the Digital Learning Academy – the leading online learning platform for the life sciences industry that focuses on the NHS and its sales environment – commissioned research among 100 customers and prospects regarding training and education issues.

More than a quarter of respondents (26%) said that keeping abreast of constantly changing targets and national standards, organisational mergers and changes in commissioning structures was a key challenge.

This is understandable, as the speed and scale of NHS change is making it increasingly difficult for training managers to equip sales representatives with the breadth of customer knowledge needed to engage with new stakeholders and broaden discussions, where appropriate, to show, for example, how a device fits into a new pathway; or how it relates to new NICE guidance.

Engaging with decision-making units

Medtech sales representatives need to dovetail their strategy with the NHS’s increasingly whole pathway, population-based approach to patient care. They also need to establish themselves as credible partners who are not simply selling products but also helping to provide solutions to challenges faced by the NHS.

To achieve this, it is vital to be fully up to speed with the latest structural changes, not just nationally but also regionally since different areas of NHS England are developing at different rates.

Sales teams need to know how Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) and Integrated Care Providers and Partnerships (ICPs) are developing. For medical products that are used by nursing teams and in primary care, it will also be important to understand how Primary Care Networks (PCNs) operate. Other key organisations for medtech sales teams include the Procurement Towers, Regional Purchasing Hubs, NHS Supply Chain and purchasing consortia.

Sales teams should also learn about the new decision-making units that are being created within integrated care organisations and the wide variety of stakeholders they comprise, including the most senior NHS finance staff, key transformation leads, procurement staff and clinicians, charities and patient groups.

Knowing the rank and status of stakeholders and where their roles overlap is also important, together with an understanding of the new accountability and governance structures that have been created within integrated care organisations.

Aligning to whole system benefits

The ability to define how a device fits into an integrated care pathway and how it can deliver wider benefits across health and social care systems is another critical skill that can set medtech sales teams apart. This is because primary and secondary care budgets are being joined up; hence healthcare organisations must collaborate within regions to deliver whole system savings.

So, for example, a sales representative who is trying to gain traction for a new type of heart procedure that involves an expensive stent and requires a costly procedure involving a wide mix of staff, may have a much greater chance of success and scalability, if they could explain how they could help the NHS to deliver on key priorities such as cutting the length of hospital stays. This approach is also likely to gain traction with other hospitals in the area.

Equipped with a wider knowledge of the NHS and the variations within it, a sales rep could support clinicians in making the case for a transformative product, technique or service. They could even help to facilitate engagement between key stakeholders to speed up transformational change.

Also, this level of knowledge helps medtech staff to understand segmentation and prioritisation, which can unlock silos and money within the NHS. So, for example, if a product is not highly competitive in terms of the whole pathway cost, it may be more effective for a company to risk stratify a particular patient group and market its product solely to that group.

Trusted partners

New care models are changing the way the NHS operates, bringing a wide range of different, and often non-clinical stakeholders into the decision-making mix, who have the potential to significantly alter the business model for medtech.

Sales reps who can keep abreast of these changes, understand the needs of a wide range of stakeholders and work in partnership with the NHS to determine how a device fits into a new integrated care pathway, will be increasingly in demand as the NHS seeks more joined up, whole system solutions.