Medical supplies still selling, but pace is slowing

Infection-control products, however, are seeing a surge in orders from physicians.

By Victoria Stagg Elliott — Posted Nov. 11, 2009

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Medical product sales to physicians continue to go up, although the expansion rate has softened, according to a report issued by the Health Industry Distributors Assn. Oct. 19.

The organization's business intelligence service reviewed data from GHX Market Intelligence finding that overall physician purchases through distributors grew 12% from 2005 to 2008. The 3% increase from 2007 to 2008 fell below the three-year average of 4%.

Despite the drop, it's unlikely physicians will start seeing distributors discount products to bump up sales. "I would think the opposite would be true. The average distributor profits are 1.3%. We're talking razor-thin margins," said Andrew E. Van Ostrand, the distributors group's vice president of policy and research. "If anything, it is time to find other ways to be more efficient."

This report, along with others on acute care and extended care, are issued annually by the organization.

Product categories that dropped included needles and syringes. It increased 2% overall from 2005-08 but dropped 2% from 2007 to 2008. Sales of adhesives, bandages, dressings and sponges were flat (0%) from 2005-08, but dropped 1% from 2007 to 2008.

Experts are predicting that sales of medical supplies will increase if reform efforts reduce the number of people who are uninsured and, in turn, trigger an uptick in the demand for medical care.

Overall increases in sales were driven primarily from products related to infection control, including a 6% increase in the sales of gloves from 2007 to 2008 and a 7% growth in point-of-care testing reagents and supplies for the same period.

Sales of these types of products are expected to continue to be robust as part of the response to the ongoing influenza (A)H1N1 pandemic. Reflecting that expectation, PSS World Medical Inc. reported Oct. 28 that net sales to physicians increased 16.6% during the second quarter of fiscal year 2010. This included $23 million in products related to dealing with the flu pandemic.

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