Promedix.com, the latest on-line service for hospital supplies, wants to make the purchase of specialty medical products a snap.
This week Promedix will unveil its Internet-based system for ordering oddball items, from catheters to surgical instruments, at the Association for Healthcare Resource and Materials Managers' annual meeting in San Francisco.
Promedix, based in Salt Lake City, is unique in focusing on the specialty niche, in which hassles for buyers exceed the considerable cost of the products.
Most specialty supplies are ordered directly from manufacturers or through mom-and-pop local dealers or distributors. Often, materials managers say, the biggest challenge is rooting out which specialty products are available to solve a clinical problem.
"Right now there's no easy way for buyers to buy specialty products," said Peter Nyberg, vice president of strategic business development at Promedix. "We're using the power of the Internet to bring buyers and sellers together."
To make the proposition sweeter for customers, Promedix offers a single price to all comers, regardless of their size or order volume. Nyberg said he expects pricing to be competitive, but the real payoff may come from simplified ordering. Buying via the Internet will eliminate time-consuming games of phone tag and consolidate scores of purchase orders to various vendors into one transaction processed through a central source.
Promedix, which began as a supplier to ambulances and emergency service crews, will also offer fulfillment and distribution services and has warehouses in Nashville and Salt Lake City.
Starting last month several test sites, including Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., and Salt Lake (City) Regional Medical Center, began purchasing from the system.
At Duke, where the respiratory-care department is the first to use the service, the dividends are rolling in. One person can place orders lickety-split without even picking up the phone, said Michael Gentile, associate director of respiratory-care services at the Duke medical center.
Gentile said he has high hopes for Promedix's approach.
"If you can match convenience with decent pricing, that equals productivity-and that's a winner," Gentile said. Already accustomed to ordering airline tickets, clothes and cars over the Internet, Gentile and his staff think it's perfectly sensible to use the same method to order medical supplies.
At Salt Lake Regional, which helped Promedix develop its purchasing system, Brian Pollick, materials manager, said he expects Promedix to slash the scads of phone calls, faxes and 70 to 100 purchase orders that he and two buyers put through daily.
"For 30% to 40% of the vendors we buy from, we're cutting one to 10 line (purchase orders)," Pollick said.
To last over the long haul, Promedix will have to attract enough vendors to create a marketplace with critical mass. About 300 manufacturers have signed on so far, Nyberg said, with 1,000 expected by year-end. Next year, Promedix expects to offer 5 million separate products.
Makers of specialty products, especially the high-end physician preference segment, may resist the Internet approach, however.
"Will the manufacturers participate in this way of doing business?" asked Thomas Hughes, president of Boston-based Concepts in Healthcare, a division of BD Healthcare Consulting and Services.
Many makers of the highest-tech and costliest products pin their business on the ability of their research and development departments to invent products that doctors will crave and pay top dollar for, he said. Middlemen of any kind aren't part of their supply equation, Hughes said. That may limit how far upscale Promedix can go.
Nyberg conceded that for now the biggest names "aren't interested in hearing our story." But he is confident that consumer power can eventually bend their wills. "The buyers," he predicted, "will become our advocates."