In the operating room, surgical masks and matching scrubs can make it hard to tell who’s whom — at least for outsiders.
Patients getting wheeled in might not realize that salespeople working on commission are frequently present and sometimes even advise the clinical team during surgery.
Who are these salespeople, and why are they there?
The answer to the first question is pretty easy. These sales reps typically work for medical device companies, such as Stryker, Medtronic or DePuy Synthes. Many surgeries, especially orthopedic trauma and cardiac procedures, require insertion of artificial joints or other hardware manufactured by these companies.
But as to why they’re present in the operating room, the answer depends on whom you ask.
Critics of the practice contend that device reps attend surgeries to strengthen their relationships with particular surgeons and thereby persuade them to choose one brand of artificial hip joint or stent or pacemaker over a competitor’s.
The device reps contend they observe surgeries because they are experts on particular devices and their accompanying tool kits, which often include hundreds of wrenches, screws and other hardware to aid in installation.
Sometimes, the device reps have observed more surgeries with a particular device than any one surgeon. That depth of experience can be helpful, the reps say, especially with the newest device model or upgrade.
“I can’t keep my socks together through the dryer. You can imagine trying to get 100 pans or 300 pans of instruments all set up correctly,” says orthopedic surgeon Michael Christie of Nashville, who specializes in new hips.
Device reps have been attending surgeries for years, but that practice is coming under new scrutiny. As baby boomers age, there has been exponential growth in device-dependent procedures like total joint replacements. In addition, insurers are starting to crack down on health care costs, telling hospitals that they’ll only pay a fixed price, known as a “bundled payment,” for certain surgical procedures, such as hip or knee replacements.
Image Credit: Sight Medical