Help your customers navigate the changing marketplace that may impact their business
It’s been another year of transition in our field with more consolidations and mergers, decreased use of antibiotics, and disruptions caused by shortages, allocations and backorders. It may be hard to believe when you’ve just finished a call with a frustrated customer, but there is a bright side!
All the changes and challenges in the animal health industry bring with them the prospect for new opportunities and innovations. For you as an inside sales rep, it means the chance to help your customers navigate the changes that may impact their business, help them stay a step ahead of potential issues, and keep them aware of new products and technology that can improve their practice.
For most of the reps I talk to, problems with product availability are one of their biggest frustrations. This year has been no exception, with shortages of everything from metal hub syringes to bute powder, PG-600 and numerous human-labeled drugs used in veterinary medicine, including injectable opioids, bupivacaine and yohimbine .
Supply problems may be due to a packaging or raw materials issue – often from overseas suppliers; closure or problems at a manufacturing plant; product contamination; or an FDA enforcement issue. Mergers and buy-outs inevitably lead to discontinued products and fewer options. Whatever the case, information may be hard to come by, leaving you and your customers scrambling to find alternatives. It can be a difficult balancing act helping everyone from your large-volume customers to small practices that depend on a product, while dealing with the handful of clinics that attempt to stockpile and “hoard” items before they go on backorder.
You’ll show your value as a true partner in their business by making your customers aware of upcoming shortages and backorders, helping them find alternatives, and letting them know you’re monitoring the issue and will keep them updated. If there is an allocation list for an item in limited supply as it becomes available, work closely with your manufacturer reps to make sure your clinics who regularly use the product are on the list. Allocations are typically based on historical need, so be ready to provide clients with their purchase history and let them know they’ll need the same from any other suppliers.
There are some valuable online resources to help you stay on top of drug shortages, including the FDA’s live RSS Feed on Drug Shortages which is updated hourly. Go to: https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/drugshortages/ to access the ‘FDA Drug Shortages’ main page. Clicking on ‘FAQ’ links to a page that is a great first step to explain the site. Also from the main page, you can search by generic name or active ingredient, or click on any of four tabs below the search box: ‘Current/Resolved Shortages’, ‘Discontinuations’, ‘Therapeutic Categories’ and ‘New and Updated’ to pull up a list of drugs in each category. Then just click on the name of any drug on the list to learn more details about the shortage. This information includes the current status, therapeutic category, manufacturer(s), presentation(s), availability and estimated shortage duration, date the info was posted, and the reason for the shortage.
Clicking on ‘Background Info’ from the main page, takes you to ‘Drug Shortages’ where you can link to recent articles. At the bottom of this page are links to download the FDA Drug Shortages Mobile App from the App Store or Google Play. Share this with your customers and you can both sign up and receive notifications when there is new or updated information about a drug product shortage or a drug within the therapeutic categories you select.
For animal-specific drug shortage information, go to: https://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/. On the left column of the page, you can select a drop-down menu under ‘Product Safety Information’ and then click on ‘Animal Drug Shortage Information’ to link directly to that page.
Antibiotic use and resistance is an issue that will continue to create challenges. In 2015, 34.4 million pounds of antibiotics were sold for use in animals, according to the FDA. By comparison, humans used about 7.7 million pounds in that time frame. In 2016, sales of medically important antimicrobials decreased 14 percent for farmed animals, possibly in anticipation of the ban for the use of these products to promote growth that went into effective in 2017. Data on the impact of the ban won’t be published until the end of this year, but sales and use of antibiotics have obviously dropped significantly.
Preventive antibiotic use in food animals is under scrutiny, with some critics calling it unnecessary. By definition, “preventive” antibiotic use is treating animals in a high-risk situation for infection before clinical signs of disease have occurred. California and Maryland have banned this type of “routine” use of antibiotics in livestock, such as giving antibiotics to piglets shortly after birth when they are most vulnerable to infection.
Fortunately, alternative products like vaccines, prebiotics, probiotics and biologics, and improving feed and nutrition with mineral and enzyme supplements and microbes provide veterinarians and producers with new options to reduce the use of antibiotics.
Seventy percent of an animal’s immunity is concentrated in the gut, so products that support a strong gastrointestinal system improve performance, energy and boost immunity to fight infectious disease. You might not have discussed the “microbiome” of the animals your customers treat during talks with them in the past, but it’s well worth your time to research this expanding area of animal health for conversations in the future.
The microbiome – or microbiota – is the community of microorganisms living in the gut of the animal, like bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa. How these microorganisms interact with the host and each other directly impacts the health and immunity of the animal. Changing the microbiome with the use of feed supplements or functional foods can create an environment where beneficial bacteria outnumber the non-beneficial strains, and keeps opportunistic pathogens under control to prevent disease. Familiarize yourself with the variety of these products you carry to discuss their benefits as an important alternative to antibiotics.
The industry is in a state of flux which can certainly be challenging, but the innovations that result from these changes that impact the future of animal health will provide exciting new opportunities for you and your customers.