Editor's Note

The Real Price of Doing Business

Recently, Dr. Sanjay Gupta — CNN’s chief medical correspondent and a practicing neurosurgeon — narrated a video that took viewers inside an operating room.

Gupta pointed out tools and equipment commonly used during surgery, then recited their costs. An IV bag, for instance, could cost $280. The price tag for a surgical stapler was $1,200. A chest tube rang up at $1,100, while a suture kit could cost $200 and a biopsy needle, $800.

Doing Business 

The benefi ts of attending events such as the International Seating Symposium are priceless, but travel still costs money. Photo by Dutch Meyer.

I’ve benefitted from a number of IV bags and surgical staples in my life, but I was still instantly outraged: $1,200 for a stapler whose first cousin could be purchased for $10 at an office supply store? It’s a stapler, for cryin’ out loud!

Over my righteous indignation, Dr. Gupta explained why prices were so high. He mentioned extensive research and development that goes into creating medical products. He pointed out the vast amounts of testing, and how surgical tools — unlike my WalMart stapler — must be incredibly precise and function perfectly in literal life-and-death situations. After all, when a patient needs a chest tube, the situation is critical enough that you don’t want to have to hunt to find one that works.

As Dr. Gupta tried to explain why surgical equipment costs what it does, I realized I had fallen into the “sheer numbers” trap. I had been outraged because in my limited knowledge, I compared a surgical stapler to the plastic one that sits on my desk. I’d compared an $800 biopsy needle with the only kinds of needles I’m aware of — the kind in sewing kits at hotels. In my rush to judgment, I compared a $280 IV bag to a $2 bottle of Gatorade. Yikes.

I don’t know, truly, whether $800 is exorbitant for a biopsy needle. But here’s what I know about seating & mobility, another health-care field prone to charges of overpricing:

  • Manufacturers of assistive technology spend fortunes on research & development.
  • They spend additional fortunes to test performance, durability, safety and transportability, in-house and at third-party labs, not to mention beta testing with clinicians and end-users. Then, they put together training programs to teach clinicians and suppliers how to use, service and maintain these products.
  • Complex rehab professionals — clinicians and suppliers — commit funds to attend educational conferences and training sessions to maintain certifications such as the Assistive Technology Professional (ATP), to ensure those ATPs are up to date on the latest technology available, and to ensure their technicians are able to service and repair the equipment they sell.
  • Suppliers working with Medicare must become accredited and must maintain Medicare-required standards.
  • And, of course, they pay staff salaries, office space rent, utility bills, etc.

So I am aware that in our industry, at least, the price of a wheelchair, seating system or accessibility product must also include the “price of doing business” — and that consumers are much better off working with a supplier or a clinician who is well educated than one who is not. While I don’t know if $280 is a reasonable price for an IV bag, I now realize that its price pays for more than just dextrose or saline. Do your seating & mobility clients similarly understand your price of doing business?

This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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