Podcast: AliTalk With Sandy Grafton On Speech Pathology

June 20, 2019


We've done all the research for you

With so many assessment and therapy tools on the market, Speech and Language Pathologists are burdened with the time consuming task of researching and sourcing the most reliable and effective products. Furthermore, some of the most effective forms of therapy are traditionally DIY tools, like cups with cut-out rims to allow drinking with out neck extension. AliMed's Speech and Language Product Manager, Sandy Grafton, works closely with SLPs to pare down our offerings to create a one-stop shopping experience for our customers.  Our product selection includes custom and hard-to-find items, including products like the Flexi-Cut Cups that already have cut-out rims. Listen to our podcast with Sandy Grafton to learn more about our vigorous product selection process and what makes AliMed a leader in the Speech and Language category. 


Tyler Kern: Welcome to the podcast today. I'm your host Tyler Kern and joining me is Sandy Grafton. She is the Speech Product Manager for AliMed. Sandy, thank you so much for joining me today.

Sandy Grafton: Thank you.

Tyler Kern: Absolutely. So today we are talking about the products that AliMed provides for speech-language Pathologists. And these products are all very carefully considered and vetted before they ever find their way onto the AliMed website. So Sandy, let's just start off by talking about the process that you put these products through. Before they're selected, you said that you want to make sure that you're choosing the best of the best products. How do you make sure that these products are in fact the best?

Sandy Grafton: Okay. Well, first of all, we do solicit product from authors and from vendors and we also ask for suggestions from speech therapists about what their needs are. So need is the first thing. Once a product has been forwarded to us for consideration, we check the possibilities of there being a product out there that maybe the person has overlooked. So we check the marketplace for availability to see if there's anything, you know, competition or anything close or anything that exactly covers that. Once we determined that this is a possible product for our line, I review it for all of those marketing and production kinds of things and then I have speech-language pathologist review it for content and reliability. Once we have done all of those things, then I negotiate with the vendor or the author or all the details about what it takes to get it into our product line, pricing, formats, those kinds of things. When that's all done and I say, “Yeah, this is a product we really need,” then I send it on to AliMed management for them to look it over in terms of all of those things that fit the criteria for the company itself. A lot of it deals with warehousing, pricing, those kinds of things. Once upper management agrees that this is a product we can yes, definitely add to our line, it is given a product number and we put it in the product line.

Tyler Kern: So that's a pretty rigorous, I guess, examination period that these products go through. How much experience do you have in this field of speech pathology and when did you first get started?

Sandy Grafton: Well, I started out with special education publishing many, many years ago. But for the last 25 years, I've been dealing just with speech-language products. So I work for two or three companies that that was their main focus. So I have a lot of speech pathologist in the field that I consider sources and friends and kind of have a pretty good feeling for what the speech-language market is all about, how it functions, and the products that are needed and how they're purchased and those kinds of things.

Tyler Kern: That's a great point that you bring up and I kind of want to focus on it for just a quick second. Just maintaining those relationships with speech pathologists just so that you have a good idea of what their needs are and what they are asking for on a regular basis, that seems like an important aspect of what you do. How important is it to maintain those relationships and foster them and to understand the needs of what speech-language pathologists really need?

Sandy Grafton: Oh, absolutely. Probably the most important thing I do, I spend a lot of time at the National Speech Hearing Association Conference once a year where people, 13,000 speech pathologists come into this convention. Not all of them stop by our booth, but I do form relationships with the people, talk to them a lot, ask them, usually have survey questions that I want to ask them. And many of them agree to help me, you know, in the year between conventions to preview and review products or to look at our catalog and give me insight on, “Well, this should be in this product line or this category.” So it's really important and I think that face-to-face meeting with them during the ASHA Convention is probably essential. I mean, we each have a face for each other and that works out to be to a great advantage for AliMed.

Tyler Kern: Yeah, absolutely. I think that that's a fantastic way of doing things because so much of our communication nowadays is done digitally. Obviously, we're recording a podcast right now, which is a digital form of communication. But also there's a lot of value in face-to-face communication and in just understanding who a person is and where they've come from and having that that face to put with the name, I suppose.

Sandy Grafton: Right. Of course, the technology helps me keep in touch with them, you know, throughout the year. So I keep email list of those people.

Tyler Kern: Absolutely. Absolutely. So when you look at the overall product offerings over the last several years, how have you seen products changing or evolving in the world of speech-language pathology?

Sandy Grafton: Yes. I think the evolution comes from the need. We now have more clients for speech pathologist because people are realizing that the speech pathologist can help with a lot of different conditions that we hadn't thought of before. The increase in brain injury, the increase in dementia clients has propelled us to do more products for those particular clients. Technology of course is taken over too. We see not only the communication thing for the augmentative and alternative communications to help people who can't talk anymore, be able to communicate, and the rise of things like products that are online. We have a lot of companies who are now putting their products online. So speech pathologist can access them. Instead of carrying around for five boxes of flashcards, they can now go to an app and see those flashcards on their phone or their iPad and take them to clients that way.

Tyler Kern: So you're really seeing maybe a rise in condition-specific materials. Is that right in products? So how do you stay on top of that? Is it constant communication just with the speech-language pathologists that you talk to on a regular basis just to understand that there is a higher demand for certain products than maybe there has been in the past? 0

Sandy Grafton: Yes, that, but the research also, we do read journals and follow the research online a lot to get statistics so that we see and even, you know, the media points out, you know, the number of increasing clients with dementia or the increased number of brain injury which are the two ones we've noticed in the last few years increasing. So it's more research but sometimes things like when we go to the VA hospitals, for example, we'll see an increase in the number of patients that are obviously coming in with brain injury in the last 10 years. So we do those kinds of things not just with the people but with research. Universities let us know what research is going on and what products can be developed from that.

Tyler Kern: Is it important for you and for AliMed to remain very nimble in how you're able to adjust to trends? I know with maybe some other, when I think of larger operations, maybe it's harder to adjust strategy to what current trends are and to recognize that research and recognize, “Oh, okay, we have more dementia patients than we have in the past. Let's make sure that we have more products offered.” That seems like that shows a certain amount of ability to be nimble in the marketplace. Is that an important value for you?

Sandy Grafton: Absolutely, and I think AliMed is able to do that because we're not a publisher. We are looking to those people who have the research behind them to actually publish the product or at least get the product to the point where it can be developed into a commercial product. So yes, we do have a great deal of flexibility since we aren't tied down with all of the ins and outs of actually producing that we do produce our own proprietary products, but they're the ones that our facilities and our expertise are already in, things like the products that speech pathologists have been sort of do-it-yourself kinds of things and we can produce those when they bring the idea to us. So those are the kinds of things that we do have a great deal of flexibility.

Tyler Kern: So it sounds to me like what some of the trends that you've mentioned, be it dementia or even, you know, brain injury and recovering from that, that the demand maybe for adult speech-language rehab materials is maybe higher than it’s been in the past. Would you say that that's the case?

Sandy Grafton: Yes, I think so too. I think people are becoming more aware of what a speech pathologist can do for clients and patients that we hadn't thought of before. So the demand in the clinical area is greater on the speech pathologist now.

Tyler Kern: Absolutely. And have you found that there are other products or other maybe segments of the product line that are in higher demand potentially than maybe they've been in the past?

Sandy Grafton: Well, the dysphagia or the swallowing products are always in demand and people are always looking for more products in that area because now we're finding that a lot more of the conditions that clients or patients have, have the dysphasia element in it. So it's also the area that people were doing it themselves to cover the areas that they needed in dysphagia. So that's always a growing market.

 Tyler Kern: Do you have maybe a formalized way that people give you feedback on some of the products or is it more of just the case-by-case basis when a pathologist uses a product, they'll give you some feedback and say, “Hey, this worked really well or maybe this one wasn’t as good as previous ones”? Or something like that. Is there a way for pathologist to give feedback to you specifically so that you have a better idea of what's working?

Sandy Grafton: Yes. We advertise both in our catalog and on the website for people to give feedback and we have a direct URL for the information to come to me to say, “You know, this product really didn't work.” Of course the marketing itself, you know, if a product is selling well, then we know it's in high demand. If not, we have to look at it again, but the direct line both online and in the catalog gives speech pathologist a way to talk to us.

Tyler Kern: Do you feel like what you're doing at AliMed really allows speech-language pathologists to do their job more effectively? I know that just in our conversation before the podcast that there used to be a lot of DIY when it came to product development and stuff like that by the speech-language pathologists. And so you've really come in and maybe heightened to or brought a heightened level of product offering. Do you feel like you're able to help them do their jobs better?

Sandy Grafton: Yes. A couple of things. One, I think we save them time because we're probably one of the few catalogs that have products in every category. Most other vendors, you know, sell assessments, that's their main focus or they sell only equipment. What we do is we try to pick out the best in each of those categories. So the AliMed website and catalog save speech pathologists a lot of time looking through all of these kinds of things to find a product that they want. Our website is, we’re continually revising it so that it makes it easier for people to find the products that they're looking for. And thirdly, yeah, the DIY. We have several proprietary products that came directly from speech pathologist saying, “You know, if I need thermal stimulation for my swallowing client, I have to put ice in the finger of a rubber glove, you know, and use it, and the water drips out, it melts,” and that led us to develop what we call the ice figure, which is a freezable gel that will last the entire session, it can be reused over and over. So those kinds of things have really helped the pathologist a lot instead of having to spend time developing their own or cutting out a cup every time they need to have a nosy cup.

Tyler Kern: Yeah. You know, one of the things that just kind of struck me and I know that you mentioned this earlier, but since you don't have any AliMed branded products, you aren't pushing a product because you're trying to make money off of an AliMed branded product. You're pushing the products that you believe are actually best for the industry. So there's a certain level of trust, I think, that people are able to have when they come to your catalog and come to your website. They're able to say, “AliMed is putting forward the best products,” not just their own, if that makes sense.

Sandy Grafton: Yeah. Right. We do. As I said, we do have a few of those proprietary products that come from DIY and some things that we have taken from other companies. But yeah, I feel very comfortable saying that we do give them the best of the best.

Tyler Kern: And we mentioned earlier just with the products that are offered for dementia patients and things like that, we obviously have maybe an aging baby boomer generation. So it stands to reason that these products will only continue to grow in popularity. Do you continue to see more growth in that area?

Sandy Grafton: Yes. Yes. And the number of speech pathologists that are increasing and they have three to five percent increase in the number of speech pathologists that come into the profession every year. So that's a normal growth. But I think also the fact that, you know, the baby boomers are coming in and experiencing things like stroke or heart or dementia and I think those people are much more aware whether it's the media or just their own education. They're much more aware of all of the opportunities that they have to correct the things that a certain condition is causing them problems. So I think we're I think this population is going to get more involved all the time with their own conditions.

Tyler Kern: Yeah, absolutely. Sandy, if people want to learn more about the catalog or they're interested, where can people go to find more information on what you're doing in AliMed in the speech-language pathology room?

Sandy Grafton: Well, probably go to the AliMed website, which is really simple. It's called and you'll go directly to the speech-language. You know AliMed is a durable medical vendor and so we have lots of other products, you know, for clients, but will take you directly to the speech-language.

Tyler Kern: Excellent. Well, this has been really, really informative and I've enjoyed getting a chance to talk to you just about the market for these products and the rigorous testing that you put them through to make sure that AliMed always has the best for speech-language pathologist. Sandy Grafton, the Speech Product Manager for AliMed, thank you so much for joining me today.  

Sandy Grafton: Thank you, Tyler. 


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