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7 Reasons Hospitals Buy Technology They Don't Need

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, January 12, 2012

Why do healthcare chiefs keep buying high-priced gadgets and gizmos that don't improve quality of care? It defies logic. So I asked around to see if anyone could explain this phenomenon.

I was intrigued by last week's report from the independent, non-profit ECRI Institute, which uses the science of evidence to advise clients how to avoid bad purchasing decisions. The document lists 10 technologies, many of which ECRI's experts say hospitals should resist or delay, because data showing they improve care is weak or doesn't exist.

We keep hearing that health providers should be cutting costs, not building and spending on glamour and glitz. The Independent Payment Advisory Board is poised to set draconian reimbursement reductions. And comparative effectiveness findings stemming from the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute will distinguish those treatments and devices that add value from those that don't.

Despite all this, every week it seems another hospital announces another CT scanner with more slices, another robot with newer software, a higher-Tesla MRI, or a $200 million cyclotron that shoots protons at cancer, with scant evidence they improve care over what already exists.

I asked several industry experts for their thoughts, including Jennifer Myers, vice president of ECRI's procurement advisory group, SELECT Health Technology Services, and hospital analyst Nate Kaufman. They told me how often they hear of these decisions being made, and what might be going on behind the scenes.

Here are seven reasons why hospitals buy million dollar technologies that lack scientific evidence showing they actually help patients:

1. Doctors demand it. They cry; they whine; they threaten to quit or cause trouble if they don't get it. High-demand/high-volume physicians under consideration for employment say they won't join an organization or practice unless it has a particular new, expensive gadget. This trumps all other reasons why many hospitals and doctors buy technology they don't need.

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2 comments on "7 Reasons Hospitals Buy Technology They Don't Need"


Jessie (1/12/2012 at 10:38 PM)
Why does Chris VanGorder cry everytime UCSD makes competitive gains in San Diego's marketplace? Start focusing on what's really important like patient safety. Implement an electronic record with a CPOE to allow benchmarking with top hospitals across the country. Find a niche and stick with it[INVALID]looking across the field at the "U" will not improve unless you fix what's wrong inside.

Michael Cylkowski (1/12/2012 at 8:01 PM)
Gene Schneller, PhD, Health Sector Supply Chain Management Professor at Arizona State University's W.P Carey School for Business claims that Physician Preference Items (PPI) are one of the uncontrolled healthcare costs. It is constantly the outlier cost that seems unsolvable. We have made solving that problem our competitive advantage in the open-heart surgery customer segment. Surgery is about adapting to the unique anatomical problems but most surgeons are constrained by what tools they were trained to use. And the popularity of a PPI can be geographical and often traced to the diligence of the local device rep. We have established relationships with surgeons that have the confidence and skills to use products that other surgeons may have abandoned. We have identified physicians that can adapt to other equipment and when asked will use items that may otherwise go obsolete in this geographic market.