Product Sales: Should You or Shouldn’t You?
by Natasha Mohr
Determining whether to make products available in your office is a difficult question that every physician needs to answer for themselves.
We asked 10 physicians from across the country what questions they asked themselves when deciding whether they should sell products to their patients.
For Dr. Joe Niamtu, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon in Richmond, VA, that question was singular and the answer very simple, “What is my goal? Am I a surgeon or a merchant?”
For Kevin Smith, a dermatologist in Niagara Falls, CA, that question had a lot of layers and sometimes led to more questions.
“Will these products cannibalize more lucrative revenue streams like BOTOX, Juvederm and lasering?” Patients only have so much money to spend! So, [for me], yes they will.
“Do I want to attach MY reputation to THESE products?”
“Will these products, after launching to derms, be made available on Amazon, etc.? [In my experience], the answer is usually, ‘YES they will.’”
Those who determined not to sell any products moved forward with the sole focus of establishing a high-quality standard of care That said, though, they still revisit the question once in a while to confirm neither their interests nor patient demands have changed.
Arriving at the conclusion that selling products could be a benefit introduces another set of questions to be considered. How much time will you commit to familiarizing yourself with that part of the industry? Do you want to commit to researching quality brands and staying on top of ingredients and new developments? You will also need to consider the logistics of selling to patients. Things like inventory, bookkeeping, product training and staff knowledge of sales are all points of consideration. But ultimately, the biggest question is, “Does selling products benefit my patients?”
For Julie Woodward, Chief of Oculofacial Services at Duke University, being in the world of academics dictated that balance between patient interest and her preference. “I sell/promote [products] because patients want them, but I don’t get paid one cent to do so.”
In a private practice (whether solo or in a group) there are also financial considerations – but not just for the practice. There are important financial considerations for your patients, as well.
In Houston, TX, Suneel Chilukuri said, “You must ask yourself if the cosmeceutical works as well as or better than the equivalent prescription medication. Examine if there is actual research showing the efficacy of the product. Evaluate if the cosmeceutical will actually save the patient money (especially since deductibles are so high in today’s world).”
Amy Taub, a dermatologist in Chicago, also stands on doing what is in the best interest of the patient. “I 100% always believed in the benefit of products for my patients so I have no problem whatsoever selling them. But it is always about educating and recommending – there is no obligation.” She says, “Making product recommendations is no different than prescribing medications; stick to what is good for their skin type, goals and budget and you won’t ever have to worry about it ethically because you are doing what is best for them.”
Joel Schlessinger, a dermatologist in Omaha, NE, says, “I can’t see any downside at all to providing products in a practice. The main reason I started selling products in my practice in 1993 was in order to provide better products and advice than my patients were currently receiving at the drugstore or department store. This still holds true in 2016, but the options available are exponentially better than when I started. My advice: Go for it and see!”
With so many products available, how do you know which products are worth supporting?
Like many of his colleagues, George Hruza, a dermatologist in Chesterfield, MO, insists one must, “look at the science behind the product and try it out on yourself before stocking it.”
Dermatologist, Jeanine Downie, of Montclair, NJ, makes this decision by asking herself, “Do I love both the company and the products? I have to be able to say yes to both of these questions.”
Mark Rubin, a dermatologist in Beverly Hills, says you need to ask yourself, “Am I giving the patient a better product than they can get elsewhere, or am I saving the patient money by selling it to them? If the answer is yes, you should sell that product in your office. “
Dermatologist, Carl Thornfeldt of Fruitland, ID, asked himself, “How will these products improve the lives of my patients?” Because, he says, “Having suffered from eczema myself, I understand fully what it means to have my quality of life impacted by skin disease. Everything I do in my practice is focused on trying to provide solutions that will optimize the health of my patients’ skin so they can live their lives more fully. This is what I look for in a skin care line – going beyond anti-aging to a more holistic approach of healthy skin. Then I ask, ‘Are the formulations backed by blinded, human clinical trials?’ The quality of the clinical studies is very important to me because it proves product efficacy.”
In a world where the hunt for eternal youth and beauty has been taken up by the masses and science and access to information are constantly evolving, the decision whether to sell products is not a small one. One must consider the investments of physical space (square footage), time and financial and other resources. And above all, we must remember that no matter what you choose, ethics should reign and each physician’s goal should be to best serve the needs of patients.
What do you think about selling products to your patients? What considerations did you make when making up your mind? Let us know your thoughts!