The Vital Role of a Network Coordinator in Marketing Products for Women’s Health

By Deepti Mathur – Senior Manager – Knowledge Management, PSI/India; Heeya Maity –Intern – Knowledge Management, PSI/India

Every morning, Vinita plans her day, mapping out the doctors and pharmacists that she will meet on her rounds. Her schedule often changes based on whether a provider is busy with patients or in surgery; she must then wait to speak to the provider or return at a later time. Occasionally, she receives a last minute request for the product “Freedom-5”, an intrauterine contraceptive device (IUCD). With only a moment’s notice, Vinita hops on her scooter and rides all the way to personally deliver the product.

Vinita is part of the team of network coordinators (NCs) employed by the Women’s Health Project – also known as ‘Pehel’ meaning ‘initiative’ in Hindi – being implemented by PSI network member, PSI/India. The project aims to improve the health and quality of life of all ‘Saritas’ – PSI/India’s client persona – in 30 districts across three states of India. The initiative increases access to quality family planning (FP) and safe medical abortion (MA) products and services through the private sector. NCs like Vinita play a vital role in engaging private health providers; their efforts have contributed to saving the lives of almost one million women in India.

PSI success story

Sarita is an archetype of a woman belonging to lower socio-economic (SEC) status in the reproductive age group of 15-49 years and is currently not using any modern F.P method. She is served by providing options to plan and space or limits her family through the network healthcare providers. Photo Credit: PSI/India

Before reaching this point, Vinita had to overcome various obstacles. Many private providers showed no initial interest in IUCDs or any other FP method; they perceived FP to be a public sector issue and too time consuming. Vinita also faced stiff competition from the pharmaceutical companies’ medical representatives (popularly known as MRs) who carried fast moving products along with attractive offers and promotional gifts.

She competed not only for the providers’ time and space, but also for credibility amongst the various FP products available on the market. Many providers showed concerns about the quality of PSI’s products, given the affordable price at which they are being marketed. Most private providers also worried as to how their operational costs would be covered through ‘discounted coupons’ (for IUCD insertions). In addition, convincing a doctor to follow the international guidelines regarding the dosage of medical abortion (MA) drugs proved difficult and is still not an easy task. Similarly, introducing certain standard infection control procedures such such as sterilization of instruments, apart from routine autoclaving and high level disinfection, was also a hard sell to most providers.

To overcome these difficulties, Vinita relied on preparation and hard work. Before meeting with providers, she gathered supporting evidence from various research studies and used innovative tools such as a tablet computer to generate interest and also reassure them about the quality of PSI’s FP products. She also used the knowledge acquired from regular trainings provided by PSI/India’s medical services team and engagement methods, such as fun quizzes, to win over providers. Ultimately, it was Vinita’s interpersonal skills and personal rapport with doctors that helped her persuade them to work towards meeting Sarita’s needs. Now, she deals with 30 to 60 clinical providers and all the pharmacists within her assigned area on a monthly basis.

It is through Vinita’s dedication, and the efforts of countless other NCs, that Sarita can benefit from the services that PSI/India takes pride in providing to the community. It is mainly on the basis of the relationship between a NC and the provider that the latter chooses to promote PSI/India’s products. Looking back on her own journey as an NC, Vinita offers the following tips to working with private providers under similar conditions:

  1. No one wants to feel stupid: The providers are experienced professionals and deal with patients regularly; do not snub them or undermine their knowledge. Offer them information in a respectful manner; highlighting that their high client load is an indication of their reputation within the community and that they would become even more respectable by following international standards.
  2. Give credible information: Be thorough with the facts while talking to the providers and provide credible source of information.
  3. Use innovative interactive communication tools: Make the most of the communications tools provided to you, such as IEC tools and tablets. They build curiosity and help improve knowledge by giving accurate and consistent information.
  4. Empathize with the provider: The provider is an entrepreneur; they practice to make a living and therefore cannot sacrifice time with a patient to speak with you. If you find that a provider is busy then either wait patiently or return at a later time. Otherwise, if the provider only allows you five minutes, be ready to speak about your products well within that time.