Know the industry and customer challenges to provide the best care
by Jay Vreeland

Today, millions of people all over the world are affected by chronic respiratory diseases, two of the most prominent being chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma.

As the third leading cause of death in the United States, COPD continues to present a challenge for the health care industry. COPD affects an estimated 24 million people in the U.S., while millions more may have the disease without a formal diagnosis. According to the CDC, one in 13 people have asthma, impacting the lives of 24 million Americans.

As the number of people living with chronic respiratory conditions continues to rise and affect millions of Americans, the health care industry has become packed with products that aim to enable better health. But in an ever-changing industry that is moving toward more patient-centric solutions, how can salespeople make their products stand out and show that their solutions best address the needs of the market? While the health care continuum continues to change, respiratory sales teams have the opportunity to be successful by understanding the respiratory care industry, recognizing the patient population and building customer relationships.

Familiarize Yourself With the Industry

As the number of people living with chronic conditions continues to rise, it is crucial for sales teams to truly understand the industry. One way to stay knowledgeable is by joining industry organizations that provide industry updates and information about potential impacts or changes to care delivery. Organizations such as the American Association of Homecare and the VGM Group are committed to the HME industry. They work to preserve and strengthen access to care for millions of Americans who require medical assistance at the point of care. These organizations provide members with updates about potential changes in the homecare industry, as well as what is happening at the federal level in Washington, D.C.

As health care policy continues to evolve, it is imperative for salespeople to be aware of the most up-to-date rules and regulations. Regulations and reimbursement considerations are critical components in health care overall, and the homecare industry is no different. An example of the importance of understanding regulations is the advent and evolution of readmission penalties for COPD patients. The 30-day readmission rate for re-hospitalization of COPD patients is very high, from 20 to 39 percent. In an effort to reduce the hospitalization of Medicare patients, in 2013, the Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) decided to include COPD readmissions under the guidelines, with the hopes of reducing all hospital readmissions to within 30 days. These penalties placed a burden on primary care physicians and post-acute care providers that now must be responsible for patients post-discharge, which raised an important question: Do health professionals and providers have the tools to manage COPD patients?

Joining industry associations and being aware of health care regulations within the respiratory care industry will better equip sales representatives with an understanding of the needs of patients and customers.

Know the Patient Challenges

Though COPD and asthma have dramatic effects on everyday life, many suffer blindly, either not knowing they have the disease or unaware of treatment that can assist with breathing. Patient knowledge of their disease state is important for sales success. If a patient does not understand the tangible benefits of a treatment program, there is a high risk for lack of adherence or compliance to their breathing therapy. Educational information can help the patient understand the disease process, as well as elements for successfully slowing the progression of COPD, which can then make them aware of the treatment that can improve the quality of their life.

In a generation where people are tracking their steps and monitoring their fitness regularly via smartphone applications, more patients are becoming active participants in their own health care. Health care providers need to be prepared to answer more patient questions or put greater emphasis on educating and engaging patients throughout their care process. While it is important for health systems and medical companies to create and implement a product portfolio that is more individualized and engaging for patients, it is also necessary for sales specialists to understand this change in care, as well. Patients want to be well-versed in therapies and treatment that will better their health at the point of care.

Knowing your audience and being inspired to have the potential to help patients is the biggest motivator for sales representatives. There is no cure for COPD, but with therapies and respiratory products on the market, we have the ability to help people breathe better and significantly improve or change a person’s quality of life.

Hearing success stories can inspire sales representatives on a daily basis. Success stories also challenge sales representatives to think about the costs associated with the care and management of a chronic respiratory disease patient and how the industry can improve patient outcomes more efficiently—at a lower cost of care. Customers must also align with the same process in order to stay relevant and competitive while improving outcomes with less reimbursement.

Connect With the Customer

While the patient is at the heart of all sales, building a relationship with your customer is a critical component for success. As a sales representative, you must have trust and confidence in your services, programs and product solutions. Trust and confidence may not come instantly, but they are often built over time by providing solutions and input to improve the care continuum for the respiratory patient, as well as providing greater efficiencies in the care and management of the respiratory patient. Another factor is to understand the value you provide to the customer. In particular, COPD affects an estimated 24 million people in the U.S. and continues to rise not only because of smoking, but also because of genetic traits, pollution and other environmental factors.

HMEs understand that COPD is not only a public health burden but also an economic burden. In 2010, the cost of COPD was projected to be approximately $50 billion. This is why HMEs value respiratory sales representatives’ guidance to provide them with the best products to help improve the lives of patients.

Provide Hope With the Right Solutions

Health professionals and those affected by chronic respiratory diseases are looking for effective treatments and therapies available at the point of care.

Through understanding the industry, patient population and customers’ needs, respiratory sales representatives have the opportunity to drastically improve the quality of life for patients and provide hope across the health care continuum.