Medical Site Debuts Through Direct Mail

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Embion, Minneapolis, rolled out its medical e-commerce Web site this week with a direct mailing of 32,000 pieces to doctors' offices and clinics.


The site is intended to serve as a portal to connect medical supply vendors with physician offices and clinics, and will include Web tools, such as a recommendations engine to help its customers find appropriate products.


"We differ from other sites that provide medical supplies in that we don't just work with one vendor, we aggregate about 20 to 40 different vendors in one location," said Kim Tucker, director of marketing and communications. "Our objective is to provide an efficient access point to vendors for clinics and offices."


Although the site has been up in a test phase since mid-September, the launch was scheduled to coincide with last week's Medical Group Management Association Annual Conference in San Diego.


The site offers hundreds of thousands of products ranging from pharmaceuticals to medical supplies, and equipment and office supplies.


The recommendations engine stores information on the purchasing history of buyers and is able to recommend what they should purchase. It applies algorithms to buying activities to learn about customers through their purchasing activity.


"It creates neighborhoods of buyers and can recommend what a particular office should purchase based on the buying activity of similar clinics or offices," Tucker said.


Customers can browse vendor catalogs, conduct searches, and read product analyses. They can access their own purchase history and compare it to those of similar offices.


"They will not have access to the name of the doctor, the clinic, or the price they paid for something when they compare purchase histories," Tucker said. "But they will know that they are looking at the information from a similar practice."


The engine also will recommend that offices make standard, scheduled orders if they are continually ordering items on a sporadic basis, she said.


Repeat orders can be set up by customers. Embion will monitor the purchasing activity of each customer and notify them via e-mail reminding them "it will soon be time to make another purchase."


Unlike some sites, the Embion site does not have a request for proposal function or auction feature for the purchase of every product. The RFP feature is available for major pieces of equipment, and the auction capability will be made available in the future, Tucker said.


An online office can also be set up. Customers can take part in online discussions in chat rooms, receive an interactive demonstration and directly contact Embion's customer service people. The direct mail campaign to launch the site was a targeted mailing of 32,000 pieces to managers, administrators, and purchasers at physicians' offices and clinics that have a high usage of pharmaceuticals, such as oncology and OB-GYN offices.


The mailing was designed to show potential customers that doing business online is as simple as the methods they currently use.


"We want to help them lower the barriers that are keeping them offline by first approaching them through the traditional form of media like direct mail and magazine ads," Tucker said. "We're looking to show them that we can improve their operational efficiencies and purchasing practices by conducting business over the Web."


The company found it hard to put together a list of targeted prospects because of the way the American Medical Association tracks doctors and because of the difficulty in finding a centralized or organized database that tracks doctors and the clinics where they work.


Working with the AMA, Embion would have only been able to produce a mailing of between 6,000 to 8,000 names. But after working with US West Data Products Group, Denver, and sifting through numerous lists for three weeks it was able to produce 26,000 more names, Tucker said.


The week before the pre-conference mailing the company sent out a smaller mailing of 3,000 pieces to physicians' office managers, administrators and purchasers.
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