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to the customer for free, Port says, and the idea is to make money on the disposable sponges. The price of the sponges varies, but it typically adds about $12 to $15 of extra cost per operation, Port says.
That has proven to be a difficult sales proposition for RF in a down economy, when hospitals are looking to shrink their budgets, not increase them. The company has to go through a long sales cycle, because even when a surgeon decides he or she wants the new sponge, the decision has to go through hospital administrators and risk management departments, Port says. There are competitors out there as well, including Irvine, CA-based SurgiCount Medical and Pittsburgh, PA-based ClearCount Medical Systems, although Port says RF has established itself as the market share leader.
One of the big challenges, of course, is proving to doctors and hospitals that they need to change what they are doing in this era of evidence-based medicine. There are already a lot of mandates hospitals need to comply with—like with electronic medical records, say—so there’s limited appetite in some places to do new things that aren’t required. And since the problem itself isn’t very well documented, RF has sought to support some studies to clearly show the benefit of its technology.
Without going too far into the data, RF presented one study of 3,500 patients in September at the American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress in Washington, DC. The Association of Perioperative Registered Nurses also came out in July with new practice recommendations suggesting that operating rooms consider using RF tagged sponges.
That may be a start, but it sounds like a lot more work will need to be done to prove to hospitals that the technology can save them time, money, and legal liability before they will switch sponges en masse. So far, RF Surgical has found growing support for its approach, and has seen its revenues climb 50 to 100 percent each year for the past three years, Port says. But that’s still nowhere near tapping the full market opportunity.
“It’s a tough, tough slog in terms of the economy and getting hospitals to look at new programs,” Port says. “This is about getting hospitals to understand this is something they need to do.”