Know Thy Customer

A new survey finds that medtech doesn't meet physician expectations. Here's what to do about that.

OPENCLIPART-VECTORS/PIXABAY.COM

In a statement on the relationship between professional medical associations and the medical device and pharmaceutical industries, the Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons (SAGES) said medical device companies rely on physicians to bring forward clinical needs and concepts for devices. "It is this direct relationship with the physician that allows the development and advancement of medical procedures, often resulting in less invasive procedures that directly benefit patients."

Despite close physician interaction, only 40% of medical device brands meet physicians' expectations, a new survey reports. What gives?

The survey, conducted by marketing analytics company Vennli, compiled results from more than 9,000 healthcare professionals. Vennli issued the report to help medical device companies better understand how to differentiate their products.

Based on survey results, medical device companies can better meet expectations by emphasizing consistent and positive patient outcomes. Why? About 94% of healthcare professionals cited consistent outcomes and 93% listed positive patient outcomes as important attributes when purchasing medical devices.

As healthcare shifts from fee-for-service to a value-based reimbursement model, many healthcare systems have launched aggressive initiatives to improve patient outcomes in every department. "Healthcare professionals feel the pressure to provide more value," said Rachel Mele, Vennli's general manager of healthcare. "Their performance is being scrutinized. It seems logical for physicians to scrutinize medical device manufacturers on their ability to perform consistently."

Gavin Finn, president and CEO of Kaon Interactive, a B2B marketing company headquartered in Maynard, Massachusetts, agreed, noting that physicians are "thinking carefully not only about the specificity of tests and procedures, but also their necessity and ability to deliver results."

Finn said ongoing consolidation in healthcare systems also affects how physicians evaluate medical devices. A hospital lab, for example, may serve primary care physicians, surgeons, and trauma specialists, all of whom demand quick results. "If a company provides equipment that does rapid and standard tests simultaneously, allowing the lab to serve all departments quickly, it has met their expectation," he said.

Healthcare worker shortage may also play a role in medical device marketability. A product that requires less training may appeal to short-staffed departments where physician assistants and nurse practitioners perform expanded roles. "You've got to have a simpler set of usability requirements, fewer training requirements, and more cross-pollination of user interfaces," said Finn.

Relatedly, 86% of healthcare professionals surveyed by Vennli cited ease of use as an important attribute. This indicates medtech doesn't need to hype training as a key feature, as 66% of healthcare professionals considered education and training one of the least important attributes.

A topic that's top of mind for medtech—innovation—also ranked as less important. Mele suspects companies have overused the buzzword to the point that it's lost meaning. In addition, technology has advanced so that everything from pacemakers to toothbrushes have connectivity features, making "innovation" something of a given.

"Physicians only have a certain amount of time and budget to adopt to new innovations while they do their jobs," said Finn. "Rather than just building a product, think about how customers will experience the product."

How to Close the Gap

To better meet physician expectations, Mele suggested medtech companies evaluate where their products stand in the areas most important to physicians:

  • Consistent outcomes
  • Positive patient outcomes
  • Durability
  • Ease of use
  • Efficacy

"Differentiate yourself in ways that are important to customers," Mele said. "Device manufacturers risk continuing to lose sales and market share if they don't understand voice of market and changes occurring not only today, but in the next three to five years. To have continuous success, growth decisions need to take into account what's important to the people purchasing their products."

To better understand their customers' needs, Finn suggested medtech companies get physicians involved earlier and more continually in development process. "Challenge each other and expose each other to new ideas," he said.

If a device offers innovative new features, discuss the benefits of those features as well as the technical details in marketing collateral. "Focus on why it would be useful rather than what it is," said Finn. "When medtech communications become too technical and scientific, the overall message gets lost."

Invest in the studies needed to show how a device speeds recovery time, results in fewer complications, or lasts longer than comparable devices. "Provide proof in a way that resonates with customers," said Mele. "Put the focus on outcomes and how the device impacts patient care."

Although the relatively low satisfaction rate among healthcare professionals sounds discouraging, medical device manufacturers can use the data as useful information to help them stand out from the competition. Mele pointed out, "Companies that are able to meet expectations will have a winning advantage."

Heather R. Johnson

Heather R. Johnson

Heather R. Johnson is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California.

500 characters remaining
This is hardly a new issue. The disconnect between what medical device manufacturers design and what physicians want and need has been discussed throughout my long career. The issue is often that those designing the product do not understand either the clinical need, the users (which includes multiple professionals) or the environment of use. Even physician champions may miss the mark as they focus on their own biases and become much more familiar with the product than would be a new customer.