25 August 2005

Maybe I should start operating on myself

A doctor in Vietnam needed an endoscope, but at $30,000, could never have afforded one. So he built one. Cost him $800.

Now, I used to work for a medical device company, so I know that much of the cost of a medical device is in proving, and creating the documentation to prove, that the device is both safe and effective. That, and tracking the devices and any "adverse events" that might occur with their use.

A good example of this is my fingertip pulse oximeter, which measures the oxygen saturation in my blood. The one that's made for climbers costs about $350; the one sold for medical use is about $200 more. I have been assured by many people that they are the exact same device with different labels and packaging. I bought the sports model, and it gives the same readings my doctor's big fancy device does (about 94%, FYI, which is up from 85% a few years ago).

The bigger price differential for the endoscope is probably mostly due to its being intended for use inside the body; the most intrusive thing about the oximeter is some red light.

Is the price difference in medical devices worth it? I think that depends on your financial situation, and how much value you put on the added risk, and that calculation is obviously going to be very different for a wealthy American and a poor Vietnamese.

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