Hospitals increase sales reps, liaisons to promote services, satisfaction

Hospitals are increasingly taking a more aggressive approach to physician sales, hiring former pharma and medical device reps--and more of them--to talk to docs about referrals and patient satisfaction.

Hospital operator Tenet Healthcare has doubled its sales force in the past two years with 152 physician liaisons at its 49 hospitals, reports USA Today and Kaiser Health News

"These people are really good and really assertive and very sophisticated," said Tenet chief operating officer Stephen Newman.

The University of Chicago Medical Center sends four employees to area practices to persuade physicians to send more patients to the hospital. During 5- to 20-minute sales sessions, the representatives hand out information about the hospital's patient satisfaction scores and reduced hospital-acquired infection rates and promise better operating room schedules. If a doc wants a new medical device, the rep makes the request on his or her behalf.

Meanwhile, the top executive at California's Mendocino Coast District Hospital has himself stepped into the role of salesman, combining his "community connector" and "maven" roles (as described by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point). CEO Raymond Hino aims to improve the public perception of his facility by conducting focus groups of "community connectors," asking them questions about what they like and dislike about the hospital, he wrote in a Hospital Impact blog post.

"So far, all of the sessions have exceeded my expectations by a large measure. I accomplished my goal of converting some naysayers into strong supporters," he said. "And the community is responding very favorably to the message that the hospital wants to hear their opinions."

The concept of physician sales continues to draw criticism from some.

"When you look at the health system, this is a waste of resources. It's a zero-sum game," Paul Ginsburg, president of the non-partisan Center for Studying Health System Change, said in the USA Today/Kaiser Health News article. The net result of changing physician-referral patterns, he said, "is that one hospital gains at a cost of others, and all the hospitals burn resources to pay (sales) people who take up the doctor's time."

For more information:
- read the USA Today/Kaiser Health News article
- check out the Hospital Impact blog post

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