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Super Hero or Villain….Delivering Bad News To Customers
By Dr. Sheila Dunn

Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird…it's a plane…no, it's another rump rocket headed right towards your physician customers! The only thing that can stop it is…well, you know.

The overwhelming reason people buy from a company is because they like and trust their distributor rep. How do you maintain the account's trust? The way you handle giving bad news and the way you handle adversity plays a big role in determining whether you're a Super Hero…or a zero!

Biggest Rump Rockets Are Compliance Related
Whether it's the IRS, HCFA, CLIA, OSHA or any other government agencies, deep down we all love to loathe them. Customers tend to treat these regulations as bad news, but most often, bad news is simply change. It seldom meets the dire predictions of the doomsayers.

Who gets to break the bad news to doctors and practice managers? You do! That makes you a change manager! Change manager…..a term straight from the latest sales book du jour. Sounds impressive, but in reality, it's never easy, fun or comfortable managing change. Basically, you're intercepting rump rockets!

Rump Rocket # 1: Medicare
The first major change for physician offices (at least in my lifetime) was when the Medicare program (which pays the lion's share of most doctors' bills) announced that physicians could only bill for and profit from tests that they actually performed in-office. "Huh?" said the doctors, who were accustomed to sending tests to reference labs and then billing the patient much more that they were billed by the referral lab. Uncle Sam said, "Whoa….it's against the law to mark up [i.e., make a profit on] work performed by someone else."

This caused a lot of confusion to practices, but ended up leading to a huge increase in physician office lab testing. In fact, this "direct billing" requirement is still a major impetus for in-house testing.

Rump Rocket #2: CLIA
Next came CLIA'88. CLIA was your big opportunity to bring bad news by the bushel to someone's front door! Most customers' first reaction was that the government had said "No more testing." To this day, there are still misconceptions about what CLIA really means to a practice.

CLIA is old news. You delivered the bad news once, why should you care about it now? Opportunities. The old axiom, "When a door closes, a window opens," has never been truer than of lab and diagnostic testing.

So how does this offer you a window? Know the CLIA classification level of each of your customers: "Waived," "Provider Performed Microscopy" (PPM), "Moderately-Complex," and "Highly-Complex." Then, either maximize their current status or upgrade them.

Virtually every customer is registered as at least CLIA-waived. This presents huge opportunities because the products in this category have been expanded over time, so those physician offices that want to stay CLIA-waived have huge opportunities to diagnose and treat patients faster and better. So, the bad news is they have to have a CLIA-Waived certificate, but the good news is that they can now perform dozens of tests in their office for a nominal fee ($150 every 2 years). This is one of the fastest growing segments of the market and there are lots of exciting issues to talk about (the new NCEP Guidelines for Cholesterol testing come to mind). So, educate your customers to do as much as possible within this category and you'll see some big sales and gross profit increases as well.

I recently spoke to a physician's office that was CLIA-waived. One physician from the group practice decided---on his own---to begin performing a moderately-complex test. The practice manager asked me if they could do this or if they were likely to be caught. I advised them not to knowingly slide it by, since the Medicare program would catch the error when the test was billed. This would trigger a government investigation of their billing practices and hefty fines would follow. It just isn't worth it!

I then explained how easy it is to qualify as a moderately-complex lab. So, while the bad news was, "If you break the law, there are serious consequences," the good news was that they could easily attain the next CLIA complexity level and begin to expand their menu.

Once you understand the CLIA regulations, you become a partner to that practice. So, is the moderately-complex category bad news? No, it is change and the chance to do new things and approach problem solving with new answers. Most companies have turnkey programs to simplify CLIA regulations for customers who are taking the plunge to the moderate complexity category.

The Royal Rump Rocket: OSHA
OSHA, the "black coal in the stocking," is the granddaddy of bad news! If there was ever a more confusing set of regulations, I haven't seen them (except maybe Stark regs!). OSHA makes CLIA look like a walk in the park! Especially the new safety sharps mandate.

Many doctors offices are not in compliance with OSHA---not even remotely in compliance. If they knew the repercussions of noncompliance with this regulation, they would really be nervous.

You've broken the bad news, perhaps several times, so now what do you do? You've heard all of the reasons and excuses:

  • "I don't have more than 10 employees." (It doesn't matter, you still need to comply.)
  • "I never heard of any of this." (There have been stories in most newspapers and TV. Would you like to see a copy of the reg?)
  • "It's too expensive." (OSHA cares about employee safety, not cost.)
  • "I don't want to use the new safe sharps products, they are difficult." (Then choose a different brand, let me get you some training on the proper use.)

You are not only the bearer of bad news, but now you are also a nag! Why should you keep slugging away? Why not just give up and move on to a new subject? Because these are opportunities, and because it's the right thing to do.

Let's return to why people buy: They like and trust you. To continue to earn that trust, you need to be honest with them, educate them, and provide solutions for their problems. Intercept their rump rockets!

How? By helping them meet the new requirements, reviewing their status on old regulations, and helping them to simplify the change process. Medical practices have to comply or face huge fines. There are also serious health consequences to employees who work in practices that do not follow the regulations (a long, slow painful death from AIDS is one of them).

So, you, the Manager of Change, must take the customer's hand and walk them through the steps to compliance and the product selections they will need to make. The beauty of this is that each step to compliance is a sales opening.

Food for Thought
To help customers with OSHA regulations, don't just sell them an OSHA manual, but help them compile their MSDS sheets. This will uncover all those drugs and chemicals they are buying from another company.

Other opportunities for OSHA compliance are training videos, personal protective equipment, safe sharps products…an unlimited number of products you sell will help them meet these regulations.

In many cases, "you control the horizontal and vertical." You can educate them, improve their practice, provide a safer environment for their employees, and sell more. And---you will feel good doing it!

Yes, you're bearing bad news at times, but you bring programs or services that go beyond the traditional role of just providing products. As the Manager of Change and the Bearer of Bad News, you will provide positive results to the practice. Whether you improve revenues, patient care, patient handling, paperwork processing, inventory issues, or employee safety, you've become an integral part of their business. Become the Super Hero that intercepts those rump rockets and places them gently at the customer's door.

Good Selling!



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