Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Out Of Site Visits

Because one of our sites has decided to replace some generations-old equipment, I had the joy of going on two site visits over the past couple of weeks. Both were sponsored by BIG NAMES, and both fell rather short. Which prompts me to examine the entire concept of the site visit.

In brief, the site needs two quite different pieces of equipment, both sold by the BIG VENDORS in question. Both teams got only half of it right, one showing us the first, and one showing us the second. Both seemed to be a little oblivious to the fact that we needed one of each. My recommendation at this point is to buy one machine from one vendor and the other from the other. I doubt that will happen.

So what went wrong? I'm not totally sure, but I think it probably comes down to someone not listening. I think we made our needs pretty clear, but...

Site visits can be fun, at least they were in the old days. I've been on what might have been one of the more expensive equipment junkets in the history of imaging. We had two Elscint CT's at the time, and the company wanted us to consider their MRI's. Our trip started at Elscint HQ in Haifa, Israel, and then took us to Kiel, Germany to see the only prototypes in existence of the machines we sought. The machines were actually quite impressive. Elscint had created one of the first high-field scanners, a 2T device, as well as a dual-gradient machine. There was just one little catch. The week before we left for the trip, Elscint was SOLD! GE purchased the nuclear medicine and MRI divisions, and Picker (later Philips) snagged the CT business. So GE ate the bill for me and my partner to look at scanners that were never manufactured! We did have a good time, though.

What is the point of a site visit? To see the machine? Here's a little secret: Most every scanner is a big box with a hole in it. Some have prettier cowling than others, some have a water-chiller in the corner, which looks rather like a fridge. Some have really nice LCD displays over the gantry. Whoopie. More importantly, one gets the chance to talk to the users, technologists, physicians, whomever. Usually, the salesmen have the tact to disappear for a moment so the bad stuff can be discussed as well as the good. (Bad stuff does come out..on our Fuji PACS site visit years ago, the PACS admin said, "Fuji support isn't so good and we have to maintain the system ourselves." Which was the end of Fuji.)

Of course, the most important part is the obligatory meal at vendor expense. But the days of picking the most expensive wine on the list are gone, and frankly I never felt terribly comfortable spending the vendors' money on frivolity anyway. Not that a fancy meal or trip can or should influence my choice, but the optics are what they are.

Ultimately, I think the days of the site-visit are numbered.

My friend Mike Cannavo, once again the One and Only PACSMan, ghost-wrote this paragraph for my RSNA Christmas Carol fantasy:
“Isn’t it obvious?” (the PACSMan) asked. “Here’s the deal. No one knows where healthcare is going, so we’re all going to start enjoying Thanksgiving again for the first time in 75 years. Instead of freezing our asses off, we’ll do an interactive virtual conference with scheduled demos and everything. No muss, no fuss, and no ‘free’ meals. As a bonus, system prices will drop 30% because vendors won’t have to pay for RSNA. It’s sheer brilliance, I tell ya!"
Mike was referring to the vendor extravaganza at RSNA, but I think this applies to site-visits as well. There is simply no need to haul people across the countryside (or country, for that matter) to see the scanner. They all look pretty much the same, and decisions are not made on the basis of their appearance. (Bore size and other specs are important, but that's all in the specs.)

Conversations with the important people can be choreographed by phone with little difficulty. And images, the most important piece of my puzzle, can be sent, hopefully in a form that will easily load on the customers' PACS. (Yes, that can be a problem.)

Hey, I like a paid day off as much as anyone else, but I'm getting too old to drag my carcass around the neighborhood and indeed the country to spend 5 minutes in the presence of the Holey Box and its keepers . Let's save a few thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars and try it my way.

I've probably just made myself a target for those who like getting wined and dined and taken to various exotic places like we just were, but time change, boys. Go spend the time with your family instead. That goes for the vendors, too.


Hussein Alsayiegh said...

Excellent as usual Sam. Pin pointing at healthcare technology problems. Instead of sending Doctors in site visits, they should make their own open-doors online user forums where users can share their view about their products. These forums will not only make life of buyers easier, but will also make manufactures products improve !

waikikiTed said...

Great commentary. I agree with you completely on this. Site visits are always risky and in my opinion, most site visit locations are less than ideal spokespersons for the use of the level of technology available nowadays.