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Healthcare Marketing in Transition: The Increasing Value of Physician Liaisons

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

physician liaison and doctorA significant sign of the turbulent changes in healthcare delivery systems—and medical marketing—is the fact that 30,000 drug and medical device representatives were laid off in the last 5 years. But as startling (and devastating) as that is for individuals on the pharma side, the same systemic storm has delivered something of a silver lining. Former reps are finding new opportunities in the expanding physician liaison and practice marketing field.

This shift—where more health care facilities are turning to one-time pharmaceutical detailers to help them attract doctor interest—was covered in depth by Kevin B. O’Reilly’s article for the influential American Medical News. Titled Former drug reps eyed to pitch physicians on referrals, it’s one of the better overview articles that we’ve seen on this topic.

“There is no reliable source for nationwide data on the number of people working as physician liaisons, a health care position that was developed in the 1980s,” according to the item that ran recently at amednews.com. “But people in the field say demand is growing for professionals with the ability to call on doctors in person to help drive referral business in profitable areas such as cardiac care, cancer care and orthopedic surgery.

“Hospitals, health systems, specialty clinics and surgery centers have a ready source of professionals to draw on due to the estimated 30,000 drug and medical-device reps laid off during the last five years. Blockbuster drugs have gone off-patent, and pharmaceutical companies increasingly are focusing their marketing efforts online.”

Healthcare Success was pleased to contribute to this piece. “Health care organizations are increasingly seeing the value of physician liaisons as part of a larger effort to brand themselves as the source for certain 'service lines' in their communities, said Stewart Gandolf, founding partner of the marketing firm Healthcare Success. "This can have an enormous impact because it's going straight at what matters," he said. "The doctor-referral relationship still drives things."

Although this shift seems like an easy, lateral move for former reps, the article points to some important distinctions. “Despite drawing on methods similar to those traditionally used by drug companies and device makers, hospitals and other health care organizations employing physician liaisons are eager to steer a different path.”

Quoting Lyle D. Green, associate VP of the MD Anderson Cancer Center’s physician relations department, "It's not sales. Our approach and general philosophy in building relationships is educational—it's to provide education about specific products and services, how to make a referral, how to sign up on our physician Web portal. Then once they make the referral, we're the customer service people. We call it referral assistance."

You’ll find related content via these links: On our blog, Where to Find an Army of Reps to Deliver Doctor Referrals, at the American Association of Physician Liaisons website, and our special report, 11 Secrets to Doubling Doctor Referrals.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

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