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Equipment Online

Providers might be skittish about placing $10,000 equipment orders through an e-commerce site without meeting face-to-face with a sales rep. But that isn't stopping them from doing their research online.

One distributor in Rhode Island - Claflin Equipment Sales & Service (www.claflinequip.com) - has built a Web site designed to give IDN customers much of the information they need to make informed decisions about minor medical equipment exam room and patient room furniture, lighting, physical therapy equipment, bariatric equipment, mayo stands, etc. The site includes video demonstrations of some equipment, such as manual and power exam tables, tabletop sterilizers, exam lights and automated external defibrillators. And Claflin intends to offer custom, live video demonstrations in the future.

High hopes
Just three years ago, Claflin Equipment President Normand Chevrette and Vice President of Sales and Marketing Mike Abbott had predicted that physicians would buy 40 percent of their product and equipment needs online. But things haven't turned out that way. In fact, they estimate that only around 7 percent of physicians order at least some of their products online today.

"We had thought that every graduating class coming out of medical school would order 100 percent of their products online," says Chevrette. But in many cases, recent med school grads don't set up an office immediately. So there's a lag time.

Even so, slightly more than 50 percent of Claflin Equipment's business is attributable to e-commerce "in one way, shape or form," says Chevrette. In most cases, customers "see what they want and then, inevitably, call it in. They want to speak to someone in brick-and-mortar. They want to get recommendations on products. So we have to cover ourselves in both a traditional and non-traditional sales environment."

Claflin Equipment has created an online marketing tool, a database, says Chevrette. The site contains information on more than 12,000 products. Three people are dedicated to maintaining it.

The Web site is especially helpful to providers with multiple locations, says Chevrette. "They have physicians who order independently; they have clinics owned by physician groups, which have their own procurement people; and they need a solution for their hospitals. They don't want these three - physicians, the procurement person in the clinics, and the procurement people in the hospital - looking at three different databases."

Adds Abbott, "The old days of purchasing agents with all those catalogs in their credenzas - which were outdated anyway - are gone."

Claflin is working with one GPO to provide its members with a Web site for minor medical equipment that will be password-protected and discounted specific to that GPO.

Rebuilding and remodeling projects
Online tools such as Claflin's can prove to be beneficial to IDNs that are completing major building or remodeling projects, according to Chevrette and Abbott. One IDN outside its service area, for example, recently completed a $50 million capital project, $48 million of which was spent on big-ticket equipment, such as MRIs. "The $2 million left over can be a black hole, because it takes a lot of time and resources to correctly specify and purchase mayo stands, diagnostic equipment, minor lighting, and kick buckets," says Abbott.

In this case, Claflin presented products to clinical users via Web-based teleconferences. "They would say, 'We need 20 exam tables,' and we would show them our selection of power, manual and bariatric tables," says Abbott. "They would say, 'I want the 500-pound-capacity table in blue with the air-lift stool with back to go with it.'" An order and ship date could be generated that day from this process.

Accessibility and speed
The keys to a successful online equipment program for customer and supplier are accessibility and speed, according to Chevrette and Abbott. That's why Web site visitors can talk to a live person at Claflin Equipment 24 hours a day.

In addition, the company has a program with a national freight carrier, which delivers and uncrates equipment anywhere in the country.

To speed up deliveries in New England, Claflin Equipment has built up its inventory of equipment. "If you have [a product] in stock, you're more apt to sell it online than if you don't," says Chevrette. At press time, the company was preparing to move into a warehouse with approximately twice as much storage and office space.

Online equipment shopping centers, such as that established by Claflin Equipment, will change the way customers and suppliers do business, predict Chevrette and Abbott. They already are changing the role of the company's six sales reps. With the strength of the online program behind them, reps spend less time covering the basic features and benefits of products, and more time helping customers make strategic decisions about equipment acquisition. "The sales force embrace what we call our electronic catalog, because all of their customers use it as their informational tool," says Abbott.

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