Medrad benefits from process required to win Baldrige Award

April 7, 2004

Execs stress listening to customers, motivating staff Medrad has learned as much from losing as from winning. The Indianola, PA-based company, best known for vascular injection systems, received the Malcolm Baldrige National

Execs stress listening to customers, motivating staff

Medrad has learned as much from losing as from winning. The Indianola, PA-based company, best known for vascular injection systems, received the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award March 9, capping nearly a decade of striving to meet Baldrige quality criteria. There were three near misses, when the company made the short list of candidates but failed to win the award. It was the process, however, more than the award, that served the company best.

In the years during which Medrad implemented the procedures necessary to meet the Baldrige criteria, the company's revenues more than doubled, growing from $123 million in 1997 to $254 million five years later. Profitability grew even faster than sales during this period, and manufacturing capacity tripled. International export sales grew to account for a third of total revenues.

The company's Stellant CT injector exemplifies how rising to the challenges of Baldrige criteria can shape a radiology product. A primary force behind this injector was the company's commitment to customers, itself an outgrowth of the Baldrige process.

"Medrad looked at the primary needs of the CT suite-what doctors, technologists, patients, and administrators need," said Dr. Guy Ezekiel, manager of CT marketing and advanced research.

Medrad engineered two versions of Stellant, one featuring single injection, the other dual. Both began shipping in North America in March 2003. The dual configuration offers certain high-performance features, such as the ability to do a saline flush that confirms the vein is open before the contrast is injected and a test injection of contrast and saline to confirm that the primary injection will be correctly timed with the CT scanner.

In conventional studies, these innovations cut the dose of contrast by 30% or more, saving money and reducing risk to the patient. But they also serve the demands of cardiovascular studies, according to Ezekiel.

"By injecting saline after contrast, you enable more contrast to get where you need it, mainly in the left ventricle and the coronaries," he said. "This also eliminates contrast residing in areas where you don't want it, like the right ventricle. Contrast in the right ventricle will cause streak artifact."

Yet at the time designers were working up a prototype of Stellant, there was no clear consensus that the market would accept a dual injector. Strategists thought prospective customers might prefer what they know, Ezekiel said. Time has proved them wrong.

"Acceptance of the dual-head injectors has gone beyond our expectations," he said.

The company released Stellant in two configurations and, based on feedback from thought leaders in radiology, developed a field upgrade to dual injection for those who buy single injectors and later have second thoughts. The company has also continued to tweak the basic functions of the Stellant injectors to better meet customer desires.

Keeping in touch with the market is a critical Baldrige criterion. Medrad CEO and President John Friel refers to customers as the company's "listening posts" in this process.

"They give us the information to go after," he said. "We get customer input up front in the design phase so we can develop the features that customers are looking for and keep getting input throughout the product lifetime. We tell our customers we want to continuously advance the product, depending on their needs."

Strategic planning is another key Baldrige criterion. The strategy of developing a dual-injection system to support cardiac CT, for example, was based on market data indicating that this application area would grow substantially in the near and middle term.

"We estimated that cardiac CT procedures were growing 85% year after year, and that gave us the incentive to provide the physician with the ability to bring incremental business into his or her practice," Friel said.

No criterion is more important, however, than human resources. Keeping staff motivated and working as a team is the trick. Compensation is only the beginning, according to Friel.

"You have to treat people with dignity and respect and to empower them," he said. "We trust our people, we believe in them, and we try to create the conditions for them to be successful."