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The Other Side of the Table

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The other side of the table. I never thought I’d be staring out from behind an exhibit table, pitching a product to my colleagues. I’ve always been the one trying to comfortably avoid the well-meaning sales people and navigate expeditiously through the rows of booths. But here I was at the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery Annual Meeting, for the first time as an exhibitor, not an attendee. How did I find my way to this side of the table, and how would I be able to perform in such a foreign environment? How will I make the switch from buyer to seller?

“Never sell surgery. We are not in the business of selling operations.”

Early in my residency, I received sage advice from one of my mentors – “Never sell surgery. We are not in the business of selling operations.” Throughout the years of my surgical career, I have heeded his advice, always presenting all treatment options, and explaining in detail the positive and the negative aspects of the operations I recommended. I pride myself on offering an educated, balanced view of all treatment options, and aiding the patients in decision making, rather than treating everyone as a nail just because I’m a hammer. My attitude may make for a good surgeon, but not an employed salesman.

I had spent the last year juggling a busy surgical practice (primarily head and neck surgery) with working for Modernizing Medicine, a start-up company in the electronic medical record (EMR) space and the creator of the Electronic Medical Assistant® (EMA™). EMA Dermatology™ had taken the dermatology market by storm, capturing more than 15% of US dermatologists in less than three years, and the company was branching out into additional surgical specialties including EMA Orthopedics™ EMR and EMA Plastic Surgery™ EMR. I was enchanted by the magic they had conjured on an iPad – transforming the previously tedious work of charting on a generic EMR template into an efficient, intuitive and accurate process, not seen with any other EMR system. I saw the changes they envisioned and had made real in dermatology as a watershed moment in healthcare record and data management – the old flip phone to the iPhone – and wanted to be a part of it. Modernizing Medicine had created an EMR system that actually helped doctors, as EMA thinks the way we do, rather than as a bureaucrat. I had worked tirelessly to help shape this for my field, and here was my moment to present this to the world.

Looking around at the other booths I began to fear I would not be able to compete with these seasoned sales forces – I certainly couldn’t personally compete for attention with the eye-catching people at the nearby booths; I was wearing the same pair of pants I graduated college in nearly 20 years ago; the cool beard a national sales manager was sporting would take me at least a week to grow; and my tongue is anything but silver. I don’t even own any hair products! Nerves and the attendant butterflies began to make their rounds.

The first conference attendee walked up and asked our sales representative for a demonstration of EMA. Unfortunately for him, the question did not come in English. As a Miami native, I stepped in and effortlessly guided him through a demo of EMA in Spanish. As I watched his face light up as I navigated through the iPad screens, I began to relax, realizing that someone else saw the same value in EMA that I do.

Switching gears back to English, I subsequently had many conversations with curious doctors – private practitioners, academicians, old and young. The reactions were universal. “Wow! This is the way an EMR should work!” and “I wish my EMR could do this – this is exactly the way I think. Mine just frustrates and slows me down.” Even a few congratulatory handshakes came upon hearing I had written the code.

After the first hour, it dawned on me that I had survived my introduction to the other side of the table, and was actually having fun. The day continued and I became more confident with my new role. The ease of my transition came with the realization that I was not selling – I was simply showing what I helped create. EMA did all the talking for me, through its built in medical knowledge, speed, ease of use and elegance of workflow. My praise for the product was sincere and genuine.

Modernizing Medicine has made my role of Medical Director of EMA Otolaryngology easy. From the company’s inception, the founders had a vision of creating EMA as a tool to facilitate efficiency, accuracy, outcome measurement and analysis, thus making doctors’ workdays easier and more fulfilling, and, more importantly, actually improving patient care. Modernizing Medicine has changed the model of medical software writing. Rather than teaching computer engineers to input medical knowledge, they teach doctors to input computer code – allowing for creation of intuitive systems that fit doctors’, and ultimately patients’, needs – not just the needs of administrators. My experience at the Academy meeting opened my eyes to the true success of the model. It was evident that every doctor who saw EMA immediately appreciated its innovation and value.

My experience at the meeting also showed me the potential EMA has to change how EMR systems are viewed and used in the office. Modernizing Medicine has allowed me to keep my old tenet of never “selling surgery,” as EMA makes the sales pitch with a simple demo. All I have to do is walk a doctor through its features and I can see the light bulb turn on. And I still don’t need to buy new pants or hair gel.

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The Author

David Lehman
MD, Medical Director, EMA Otolaryngology