Are you asking the right questions to get your product embedded in NHS pathways?

I talk a lot to the Pharma, MedTech and Devices industry about ‘parking the product’ and taking a strategic approach when pitching. But what does that actually mean?

To explain it, I take the Stephen R Covey approach, which is essentially, if you are going to be understood you first have to seek to understand, one of the central tenets of Covey’s 40-million selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The point I make to people is they have to be prepared to ask lots of questions.

Speak their language

If I think about it – which I do frequently – there are several themes at the heart of all Integrated Care Systems. Those are:

  • Keeping people out of and away from hospital when it’s not necessary.
  • Reducing avoidable appointments.
  • Reducing avoidable referrals and admissions.
  • Improving the patient outcome.
  • Tackling areas of unwarranted variation where there are health inequalities.

So if you’re thinking about how you engage with an Integrated Care System, or a place, the approach I would take is to lead with the prevention agenda. It links directly to the NHS Long Term Plan, the NHS operating framework and, of course, into the primary care network Directed Enhanced Services and the Investment and Impact Fund.

If you do that, you’ll be talking to a system, a place, or a network in a language they understand.

The prevent agenda is broader now

The traditional preventative services are still in the Long Term Plan. They include measures around obesity, smoking, alcohol, sexual health and antimicrobial resistance.

But it’s now become much broader than just those things, it’s not just a focus on stopping people becoming unwell in the first place. It’s very much about slowing disease progression, which includes reducing avoidable appointments, referrals, and admissions – all agendas the industry can engage with.

And this for me is where a strategic approach at system, at place and at network will engage because it’s a language that they understand and it’s not product led. It’s also very much the language that’s in the operating framework.

So our focus might be on reducing local health inequalities – that’s in the operating framework and PCN DES. Tackling unwarranted variation – that’s in the network DES, Investment and Impact Fund and in the Long Term Plan. Supporting patients to improve their own self-care – again, part of the network DES and in the Long Term Plan.

And when they need care, it’s now about how we direct them to the right NHS services, which is another agenda that the industry can easily engage with – self-care and directing people into the right place for their care.

Introducing your product

So, the industry can support them to develop a high quality, standardised complete pathway approach, without any unwarranted variation – keeping the conversation away from product and instead steering it toward strategy.

Within the pathways, the focus will be on, ‘How do I put the right patient in the right place at the right time with the right healthcare professional, who has got the resources to deliver the care required?’. That’s the language of the operating framework, which leads on to focussing on a reduction in avoidable appointments, referrals, and admissions.

Now the door can be opened for the product conversation because the customer is naturally going to ask, ‘How are you going to help me do that?’. That’s where you can then get into the tactical conversation about the product.

The process is simple. Start with the strategic conversation around the pathways and how you can support them, then embed the product into the pathway where the focus is on patient outcome. That guarantees you – the Pharma, MedTech or Appliance company – the long-term sales return because your product is now embedded as part of the pathway.

Demand is outstripping supply – can you be the solution?

There’s no getting around it, it takes time to build relationships within an Integrated Care System, or at place or even at network.

But I know from my own work that this approach really works. I see it every day. Providers have not got enough people to meet current demand and are looking at innovating and working in different ways to address that. This is where the strategic conversation comes in that leads to the tactical conversation.

Wondering how to strike up a conversation? There’s so much to go at. For example – can you support them with a risk stratification of patients so they’re targeting those most in need? They could be receiving suboptimal treatment or even not being treated at all.

And ultimately, that improves the patient outcome and reduces appointments, referrals and admissions. Sub optimal treatment is a real problem. I’m doing some work with some hospital consultants who have indicated to me that between 75% and 80% of the patients arriving in the outpatient clinics are there because of suboptimal treatment. If we corrected that, it would avoid the referrals completely.

Why a standardised approach is the answer

That ties into better patient outcomes which relieves workload pressure on general practice. So there’s another role for the industry – embedding training, education and learning to upskill the NHS teams to better manage the patients and improve the outcomes. There’s a knock-on effect here, the better the outcomes, the fewer the inequalities and the less variation there is, driving down appointments, referrals, and admissions.

Standardised care also means the practice teams and the network teams are interchangeable. That means it is possible to increase capacity by using the staff in network clinics from the practices where the kit and equipment, the drugs, the pathways, the referral forms, the patient education, the step up and step down process, the referral process and the discharge process are all standardised. If everybody worked in varied ways that would be completely impossible to do.

All this should lead to excellent local guidelines that embed products in them and give the industry a great, long-term return on their investment.

Scott McKenzie helps pharmaceutical, medical technology and device firms increase revenue by getting their products and services in front of the right NHS decision makers. If you want to get your products fully embedded into treatment pathways we can help you. We’ve doubled revenue for our clients and can share these processes with you too.