A few years ago, Foxseer Medical displayed their $698.00 bedside monitor at the Florida International Medical Expo (FIME). When I saw it, my initial impression was that at that price, it probably had very limited capabilities. However, when I looked further into it, I saw that it had an amazing number of features. They offered a 15” touch screen display, arrhythmia detection, storage of alarms, waveforms and trends, wireless networking, battery backup, and many other capabilities. The parameters monitored included ECG, heart rate, SPO2, respiration, NIBP and temperature. All parameters worked in either adult or neonatal modes.
Foxseer Medical is but one example of the many Chinese companies that manufacture and sell medical devices worldwide. While very few Chinese medical devices are available for sale in the U.S.A., it seems inevitable that over time, they will begin to penetrate and perhaps even eventually dominate the market. Although this possibility may seem unlikely, times are changing and the pressure to reduce costs may force healthcare providers to rethink their approach to acquisition of capital medical devices. In an environment dominated by cost considerations, it may no longer make sense to purchase the traditionally high priced American and European products. This is especially true if the Chinese product offers the same features and warranty as the more expensive devices.
When purchasing lower priced products, quality becomes an obvious consideration and, in general, Chinese manufacturers have not yet established a reputation for making high quality products. The history of other Asian countries has been that, over time, they have managed to make significant improvements in quality. At one time products that had been manufactured in Japan were considered to be cheap and of poor quality. After adopting the quality improvement methodologies taught to them by W. Edwards Deming, Japanese manufacturers began to enjoy a reputation for quality that ultimately surpassed the U.S.A. Korean products have followed a similar pattern and it is reasonable to expect that one day the reputation of Chinese products will be synonymous with quality.
If Chinese manufacturers follow the pattern of Japan and Korea, one day their product quality will be on par with or even surpass the traditionally purchased devices manufactured in the U.S.A. and Europe. If they manage to do this and offer their products at significantly lower prices, healthcare providers will have an obligation to consider purchasing them. Under these circumstances, what role will you play? Will you take the lead and use your technological expertise to provide an objective analysis of these products or will you steadfastly position yourself against change? Your reaction can make a big difference in how you are perceived in the C-Suite. Beyond the technological aspects associated with an analysis of these devices, you can remind senior managers that when companies are introducing new products into the marketplace they frequently are willing to make major concessions in order to make sales. This makes it possible to negotiate lifetime warranties, free parts replacement or full replacement of any devices that fail. All of these offer significant advantages to your hospital’s cost reduction efforts.
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