The Purchasing Paradox

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There is so much breadth and depth to today’s imaging marketplace that many radiology centers find themselves struggling to make sense of it all. As a result, growing numbers of organizations shopping for equipment end up with systems ill-suited to their needs and systems fated to fall short of meeting expectations and satisfying users, patients, and referrers.

Sean Burke

Sean Burke, chief marketing officer of the Americas for GE Healthcare, Waukesha, Wis, says, “Imaging-system purchasers are confused about the choices available to them, which poses potentially big problems as they seek to develop their technology strategies. Without a clear technology strategy to undergird their purchase decisions, making confident strides forward becomes challenging—sometimes, unduly so.”

Burke can be considered an authority on such matters, having recently directed an ambitious, 18-month research project aimed at shedding new light on how imaging providers think through their plans to bring aboard big-ticket systems, whether in replacement of older, outdated machines or as never-before-used types of equipment.

“We gained considerable insights from that study," Burke says. "Some of what we learned validated things we already thought we knew about the customer decision-making process. Some of what we learned proved to be surprising.”

Driven by Consensus

One of those surprises was the stronger-than-anticipated role played by stakeholders who lack authority to make purchase decisions, but who nonetheless exert influence over selection. “We found that it’s not so much the modality itself or the internal politics that acts as the driver of the purchase decision; rather, it’s the organization-wide consensus that emerges about the need to acquire this or that piece of equipment,” Burke says.

A related surprise was that while some purchasers may be confused about the market and the scope of the products contained therein, no such bewilderment exists when it comes to intended use of the equipment. Customers know what they want to accomplish with a new system; it’s just that they don’t know which system is the most appropriate one for the task.

“One customer we surveyed gave a great illustration of this dilemma by comparing it to the thought process of how you or I might go about deciding which pair of shoes to put on in the morning,” Burke says. “You open your closet door, and there, in front of you, are the choices of dress shoes, running shoes, or hiking shoes. Each pair is different, but each will fit your feet and generally do a good job of providing protection and comfort, but only one of those pairs will be right for the specific activity you plan to engage in that day.”

Burke continues, “Let’s say you’re going to be participating in a marathon race that morning. The dress shoe and the hiking shoe will clearly be the wrong choices for that activity. They’re perfectly good shoes, but not for this application. It’s much the same with imaging technology. The capabilities and features of the various systems may all be excellent, but one is almost certainly going to be better suited for a particular need than the others.”

Three Types of Need

The shoe analogy proves especially apt in view of GE Healthcare researchers’ observation that customer needs are divided almost universally along three lines, each of which can only be properly satisfied by an appropriate hardware–software package. “There are situations when organizations want to reach the cutting edge—or if they’re already on the cutting edge, to push themselves even further out along it,” Burke says. “This could be the case for private practices striving to differentiate themselves in a very competitive market.”

Burke adds that academic centers often try to address this need because the cutting edge is what they’re all about in the first place. He says, “Then, there are occasions when customers want to boost productivity. Perhaps the reason they want productivity is to increase patient throughput and so be able to serve more patients in the span of a day. Perhaps they want productivity in order to make more time available to spend interacting with patients or for exam preparation.”

In addition, he explains, “There are occasions when customers want essential functionality. They simply want to be able to provide an imaging service, usually for the very first time. We see this throughout our global markets. Domestically, we see this frequently among organizations that