My windows are open on this bright, cool morning. Outside, the breeze rustles the leaves of the aspens in my yard.
Eight weeks ago today, I fractured my tibia skiing. As I sit in my kitchen writing, my right leg is stretched out to the side, foot resting on another chair. I have a cold pack strapped to my knee. Someday soon, I hope to achieve a full range of motion again. This week, I will try to walk again.
My injury, surgery and recovery have given me an opportunity to cross over to the other side of the medical device industry, as a patient. The care I have received throughout this time, from nurses, my surgeon, the anesthesiologist, the physician assistant at the emergency room and my physical therapist, has been nothing short of terrific. I have tremendous respect for their knowledge, skill and dedication to helping me recover.
I have been as diligent as possible about following their advice. I have learned a lot about my body’s ability to heal and need for movement. My desire to be healthy and active again is insatiable.
During this challenging experience, I’ve encountered first hand products from many companies in the medical device industry. When I saw my surgeon for my 6 week check-up, he looked at me in surprise when I asked him if the buttress plate screwed to my tibia was from Synthes. He said it was. I imagine, and frankly hope, there was a company representative in the operating room when I had my surgery, who was well-trained and well-prepared with back-ups and alternatives, should they have been needed. This unknown person has also impacted the quality of care I’ve received.
The morning of my surgery, my surgeon stopped by to see me in pre-op. He was fresh from a good night’s sleep and clearly excited about operating. He had been planning and preparing for the different possibilities he might encounter. After all, surgery is what he had trained and worked so hard to do, through many years of medical school, residency and a fellowship. Medical device sales representatives, as well as those aspiring to the industry, often express a similar level of excitement about surgery.
I can appreciate enthusiasm for surgery, and I understand how such passion can contribute to a better surgical outcome, but these emotions are in stark contrast to my feelings at that time as a patient. Pain, fear, even despair would be the best words to describe how I felt in those first days surrounding my accident and surgery.
During this time, and since then, there have been moments of compassion that have been as important to me as any medical intervention. In particular, I think back to the physician assistant in the emergency room, who rubbed my arm and reassured me after I began shaking when the shock and reality of surgery and a long recovery hit home.
Sales people are measured by their ability to grow business, and to achieve and exceed a quota. Somewhere in this equation for success, there must be room for compassion. I think the best companies and sales representatives in the industry find a way to balance these two contrasting priorities. They live up to the full responsibility of their roles when they are thoroughly trained, current on the latest techniques and products, provide excellent service and support to their customers, and are well-prepared for every surgery. The final element of exercising compassion as a medical device sales representative is never loosing sight of the patient’s well-being. I hope that the sales representative who may have covered my surgery had this in mind.
One of the sales managers I have worked closely with over the last few years refers to this as “doing right by the customer”, and in turn, the patient. Although it is not a formal metric, at the end of the day it is how he judges whether a representative is successful or not. If a sales representative “does right”, growth will follow. A lot of business is won and lost based on the level of commitment sales representatives demonstrate toward their customers.
I am suggesting that compassion toward the patient should be one of the major reference points a sales person uses to guide their decision making and their behavior. Some sales people I have spoken to in the industry use the following question to remind themselves of this:
“What if the patient on the table was my parent, spouse or child?”
I think this question should be part of the criteria for every product developed, marketed and sold in the industry.
What would happen if companies did find a way to measure the compassion their sales representatives demonstrated toward their customers and their customers’ patients, in addition to measuring growth in revenue? What you measure, you can improve. What would be the associated impact on the company’s bottom line? I am betting they would find there is as strong a correlation between compassion and results as any other metric they use. Although it may be hard to measure, compassion is an imperative for long-term success in medical device sales.
Back in February, I wrote about how my trip to the hospital and subsequent recovery had given me great appreciation for the great work healthcare professionals do.
Well, I’ve had another opportunity to do so again, this time in a way even more closely connected to the world of medical devices, specifically orthopedics.
About 2 weeks ago, I had a little skiing accident. Or that is what I thought it was, and everyone else did to. Apparently, I was pretty stoic when I should have been hysterical. The ski patrol said, “Eh, it’s probably a bad bump, but you should have a few pictures taken just in case.” They thought my bulging bursa was pretty cool. Maybe the fact that I could not bear any weight on my right leg should have been a clue for us all.
I was really really hoping it was nothing more than a bump, but the xrays at the urgent care proved otherwise. And back to the local ER I went. On the way, I called Linvatec’s distributor for Colorado. “Who are the good orthopedic surgeons in town?” I was really glad I had someone I could call to find out.
Fortunately, one of the surgeons he mentioned was on call. There was some debate about whether I should go into surgery that night. I had a fantastic PA and the same nurse I’d had before when I had visited for pneumonia. I asked about their frequent flyers club- I think I am eligible. In the end, I was sent home with some pain meds and plans for surgery early the following week.
I have a tibial plateau fracture. When I wasn’t covering my eyes, I watched with the foggy images of my bones on the computer screen in my surgeon’s office a few days later. He moved though the CT images, speculating on areas of concern. For all the amazing technology that is available, it is interesting that CT scans and xrays provide images that still leave so much to interpretation.
My PCL seemed to have pulled loose, but it was uncertain as to whether he would have to reattach it with a screw or if it could be recaptured by the hunk of bone it seemed to be attached to. The condition of my meniscus and other ligaments seemed unknown.
The existence of these uncertainties intrigued me. The mystery of it. One that could not be solved without cutting into my leg and peering inside. I think it is part of what makes orthopedic surgery so fascinating and exciting.
One thing reps in the industry say is that you have to be “on your game” in the operating room. Extra products and instruments, ready to support plans A, B and C, should the patient require it.
Surgery the next day was thankfully a blur. I now have a buttress plate with about 5 screws into my tibia. I was hoping at some point for a lucky break (probably a poor choice of words), for something to turn out better than expected rather than worse.
I got more than a few lucky breaks in the end, the first being a good surgeon. My PCL snugged back into place without a screw. My meniscus and ligaments are in reasonably good shape.
I have an insatiable desire to walk, even run, because I am feeling pretty darn good again, now 2 weeks post surgery. But I don’t dare, not yet. It would be against doctor’s orders. But I will again someday soon, and for that I am very, very grateful.