Yesterday I explained how I originally began writing my article with cost savings in mind. I was focused on how insurance companies and patients could save thousands of dollars per procedure by using the new mechanized, OnControl drill, instead of sedated biopsies.
After leaving the OnControl exhibit for the second time on my way to lunch, I continued to wonder about the sedated/non sedated bone marrow question. As I shared with you yesterday, after enduring an especially difficult biopsy at a local hospital near my home, my myeloma specialist at Mayo suggested I try a sedated biopsy there.
He sent me to the lower level of one of the outlying buildings. After a short wait, I checked-in and was led to one of a dozen or mini-operating rooms. Once inside, I sat down and one of the nurses started an IV. Ten minutes later an anesthesiologist asked me a few questions, discussed my case and started an IV drip. I remembering them laying my chair back. A short 15 minutes later I was awake and alert. I ate some toast and jam to help get my blood sugar up and off I went.
Quick and relatively painless, I swore I would never get a non-sedated biopsy again.
Just last year, a fellow multiple myeloma patient who had read my book contacted me in a panic. It had been six months, so her oncologist told her he needed a second biopsy. Apparently her first was scary and painful–and when she requested a sedated biopsy her doctor said “NO!”
Here is where my story finally gets interesting. Why did her doctor refuse to sedate her? Was it bad for the patient? Would she feel more pain or be inconvenienced? No. THE DOCTOR WOULD BE INCONVENIENCED! Why? His clinic couldn’t do a sedated biopsy. She would need to go to a local hospital.
I will let the patient, from Rockford, Illinois named Helen, describe what happened next:
“Dr. XXXXX told me they never do sedated biopsies. When I asked him why, he didn’t answer at first. So I told him about your book and how great you thought sedated biopsies were. He finally told me they couldn’t perform them there at his clinic, and he didn’t want to travel across town to do the procedure.”
“That’s not how I would want to be treated!” I told her. We had already discussed the wisdom of her getting a second opinion from a larger cancer center that specializes in treating multiple myeloma. Even though Rockford is five hours away, Helen decided to drive to Mayo and get that second opinion.
Once there, her doctor gladly agreed to let her undergo a sedated biopsy. She called me just last week to let me know all had gone well–including her biopsy–which was pain free and “a joy” next to the first one she had experienced back in Rockford.
I know, I know–I’m way off-track again. But I wanted give you some insight into my frame of mind as I approached my story.
I was quickly learning a number of things. First, most biopsies are not sedated, so my original premise about the OnControl mechanized drill saving lots of money didn’t really apply.
I had now spoken with representatives from all three bone marrow biopsy equipment companies. Without prompting or hesitation, both of the non-mechanized system reps stressed cost savings of coring tools and supplies. Yet no one even mentioned sedated biopsies.
You learn a lot as you speak with reps at trade shows like this. The questions you asked in the beginning soon begin to evolve and change. So back I went to the OnControl exhibit to apply what I had just learned, and to try using their mechanical drill.
The drill was lightweight and easy to use. I was able to get my core sample much more quickly than I had with either of the other non-mechanized tools.
But most importantly, the OnControl group had proof their system was less painful at the time of the procedure, with less post procedure pain in the hours and days following a biopsy: An independent research study to be presented the next day at ASH titled, Comparing Powered Bone Marrow Biopsy Procedures To Manual, showed “Superior size and overall quality of core specimens,” as well as that the new drill was “significantly faster” and “less pain was reported.” when compared to all of the manual devices tested.
These OnControl people really seemed to be on to something!
Remembering how important cost was to reps from the other companies I interviewed, I figured the OnContol system must be a lot more expensive. After all, the drill must cost a lot…
“No!” Chief Operating Officer, Michael Voss, answered in an interview later that day. “We provide our lithium-powered driver to most accounts at no charge.”
No charge? Then why wouldn’t everyone want to use this new system? Mr. Voss had momentarily stepped away, so I asked my new friend, Jason, how much the company’s trays cost. “Larger accounts pay around $85.” he replied. $85? That is only $55 or $60 more than one of the competitors trays.
“This is a slam-dunk!” I shared with anyone close enough to hear me. “Your sales must be off-the-charts!”
“Not yet…” a voice behind me answered. That voice belonged to Philip Faris Jr., CEO of Vidacare, the company which makes the OnControl system. Mr. Faris explained how it is tough to break-in to a competitive industry like this one, but he was hopeful studies like the one being presented the next day would help.
I could understand that. But still, if I was a patient preparing for an non-sedated bone marrow biopsy, I would select the OnControl option in a heart beat!
But apparently, patients were not being given an option. Was it because the mechanized system was so new? So different?
Yet reps from either of the other companies I had interviewed even mentioned the OnControl system without prompting. And when I did ask them about OnControl, no one seemed concerned. “Too expensive!” I heard several times.
Too expensive? What is $60 in a world where hospital bills can easily exceed $10,000? Where a box of Kleenex or an aspirin can cost more than $10!
But this story isn’t really about the products or people working for the bone marrow biopsy equipment companies like OnControl, Cardinal, Ranfac or HS.
No, these companies and hard working staffers are the “good guys”–that is if there are any. They are merely actors–players in a not-ready-for-prime-time melodrama.
The bone marrow biopsy medical supply industry is a metaphor–an example of everything which is wrong with our medical system.
But who are the “bad guys?” in our melodrama?
Tune-in tomorrow and find out!
Until then, feel good and keep smiling! Pat