Finding the prescription for cracking the health care market

Colorado Springs, Colo. – In the year and a half since it launched its HealthPath practice, Avnet Technology Solutions boasts VARs that have taken the training have experienced 40 per cent sales growth, leading the Phoenix-based value-added distributor to further expand the program.

Consisting of in depth, market-specific training and support for VARs, ISVs and OEMs, HealthPath is designed to help partners understand the unique language, needs and procedures of the health care vertical, and better position and tailor their technology offerings accordingly.

While the health care vertical can be tough for a VAR to break into, once you’re in it can be a very rewarding market said Tony Vottima, vice-president, vertical solutions, Avnet Technology Solutions, Americas.

“Health care is probably the most different industry I’ve ever learned about,” said Vottima. “They’re a very conservative society, they don’t let outsiders in and it takes awhile to develop trust. They’re very focused on patients and patient safety and aren’t interested in technology, except to meet that bigger goal.”

They also don’t want fly by night VARs that will just implement a solution and then leave, said Vottima. Health care organizations are looking to build relationships with trusted, long-term partners. Once partners invest their time, show their understanding and develop a relationship, he said that relationship can be sustained for much longer than in other verticals.

The challenge, however, is getting your foot in the door in the first place. Carmi Levy, a research analyst and senior vice-president of strategic consulting with Toronto’s AR Communications, said the first thing to understand when selling to health care is that the consequences of technological failure are severe. Reliability, above all else, is key, which also explains the heavy regulatory burden surrounding health procurement.

“The consequences associated with the use of this technology are probably the highest of any sector a VAR could sell into,” said Levy. “No one ever died because they filed their taxes late, but certainly a lot of people have died in health care because of inadequate or improper use of technology.”

Another key differentiator, said Levy, is the level of involvement the potential end users have in the technology selection process, and the sway they have over the final buying decision. It’s not just the CIO that needs to be sold, but the doctors and the nurses as well.

“If a new patient management system is going to be ordered the nurses are going to be front and centre in determining what works best, what makes the most sense, and what training is required. The sales process and follow-up needs to accommodate that,” said Levy. “You’re not selling so much as engaging in a partnership and not just with the ultimate decision-maker, but with the professionals that will be using the technology down the line too.”

The centerpiece of Avnet’s HealthPath practice is the three-day university classes, which the distributor is planning to increase in number. During first two days no technology is discussed, said Vottima. Rather, the goal is to help VARs understand the health care environment, the titles, the decision makers, the challenges, and the business objectives. On the third day, the vendors come-in to explain how their solutions can be positioned to address these business issues.

“We want the reseller to understand that and be able to connect the dots and be able to deliver solutions that solve their problems,” said Vottima.

With the course expansion, Vottima said Avnet hopes to bring in CIOs, chief medial officers, radiologists and other health professionals to tell course attendees about what VARs should talk about when they’re approaching them, and what they should know before walking into the hospital.

Avnet is also planning to add an internship component, which will see course attendees spend five days in a hospital speaking with medical professionals and learning how it works. While tuition of $800 is charged for the HealthPath course, Vottima said it’s not intended as a money maker but rather for the VAR to demonstrate its serious about investing-in and building a health care practice.

“The rate of Canadian partners attending the university is increasing as word spreads within the Avnet partner base in Canada,” said Vottima. “The challenges in health care are the same all over the world, the only difference is who pays for it. In a lot of areas like e-health records Canada is a lot more advanced than the U.S. because it is centralized around a government play.”

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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