Equipment buyers judge products more strictly

July 28, 1993

Prospects of radical health-care reform are leading radiologyequipment purchasers to place greater emphasis on cost-effective,reimbursable equipment and procedures. Vendors must cater to health-careproviders who are looking more than ever to make their

Prospects of radical health-care reform are leading radiologyequipment purchasers to place greater emphasis on cost-effective,reimbursable equipment and procedures. Vendors must cater to health-careproviders who are looking more than ever to make their equipmentpurchasing dollars count.

Imaging system vendors "need to get down to nuts and bolts.Clearly the hype of the '80s is over," said Dr. Ross Golding,chairman of the radiology department at St. Mary's Regional MedicalCenter in Reno, NV. Golding was among the featured speakers atthe Medical Marketing Association's annual conference last monthin Lake Tahoe, CA.

As imaging service providers strive to increase the efficiencyand marketability of their facilities, they want to cut throughvendor hype and carefully judge system performance and value,said Tom White, MRI/CT manager for Cape Fear Memorial Hospitalin Wilmington, NC.

"Quality is essential. It is no longer an extra gimmickthat can be offered or something just to be talked about,"White said. "It's got to be real."

Health-care providers will increasingly begin to look for basicequipment that fills a specific need. Less emphasis will be placedon bells and whistles. More product comparisons will be undertaken.Equipment for procedures without a proven track record in reimbursementwill not be bought, White said.

"We're not going to purchase it unless we can get somemoney back for it," he said.

The imaging services market will likely remain competitive.Despite declining reimbursement, hospital duplication of serviceswill continue to be prevalent, especially in high-technology areas,White said.

Buyers will focus more on keeping equipment life cycle costsdown than just on obtaining the best purchase price. Radiologistswill require equipment lives of longer than the five to sevenyears they are used to. Equipment should be upgradeable, and atminimum cost, Golding said.

MANUFACTURERS MUST MAINTAIN cost-effective service support followingan acquisition or risk losing sales to the competition when newsystems are purchased, Golding said.

"Service costs are atrocious," he said. "They'regoing to have to come down or you (the vendor) are not going tobe providing the service."

Broad support and responsiveness to the customer's needs arecrucial in fostering a good business relationship. The successfulvendors are those who support their users, Golding said.

"You can't be dealing with an organization where salesdoesn't even talk to its own service department," he said."Very often, comments that you make to your salespeople arecomments that really need to be made to service. Those peopleneed to be communicating with each other."

Hospitals and imaging centers are expending tremendous energytrying to maximize staff efficiency and effectiveness. As a result,technologists may be working in areas outside their expertise.It is vital, therefore, that the equipment be user-friendly, Goldingsaid.

Vendors should also share their marketing plans with theirclients to help them build their own customer base. Most imagingsites have a dearth of good marketing ideas, White said.

Product promotion should center on educating the buyer, who,more and more, is not the radiologist, Golding said.

Vendors must be aware of which hospital players they have tomake a pitch to, whether they be purchasing committees, CFOs,or senior-level hospital administrative staff, he said. Radiologistsplay an important role as far as telling the administration whatthey feel they need, but that no longer provides the final answerto the purchasing question.

When vendors shape their marketing packages aimed at radiologists,they should realize that playing back clinical results publishedin major journals has little impact on physicians who have toread 35 to 40 journals a month to keep current, Golding said.

"Don't waste the client's time. By doing that, you'rereally wasting your own time," Golding said.

Scanner purchase decisions by HMO Kaiser Permanente in northernCalifornia are made by a purchasing committee composed of radiologychiefs from the various hospitals, according to Gailord J. Gordon,general manager of biomedical engineering for Kaiser FoundationHospitals in Berkeley, CA.

The committee selects one vendor to be Kaiser's preferred provider.An effort is made to purchase all imaging equipment from thatvendor, although exceptions are made, he said.

Kaiser studies service infrastructure as well as product featureswhen selecting the preferred supplier. Companies without the servicecapability to meet Kaiser's needs are dropped from contention,Gordon said.