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IMDA: Together We're Better

Shawn Walker, President, Bay State Anesthesia

Being the owner of a small, entrepreneurial company can be exhilarating. You write your own ticket, set your own direction. But it can also be daunting. After all, there are no corporate coffers or even expertise on which to draw. While the rewards are big, so are the risks.

One of the most challenging parts of being such an owner, though, is the fact that you're alone. You may not have colleagues with whom you can share your questions and experiences. You don't have much clout in the marketplace either. The learning curve can be long when you're the only one on it, particularly in a business as challenging as specialty medical sales and marketing.

Most of the members of IMDA find themselves facing such challenges. IMDA is an association of specialty medical sales and marketing companies that bring innovative medical devices to market. Our sales reps are technologically sophisticated individuals who pride themselves on detailing new devices and training clinicians on how to use them effectively. It's a niche that the large distributors-big box-movers can't touch, since the reps with the box-movers carry hundreds if not thousands of products, and are more concerned with the logistics of medical products distribution than on introducing new devices and technologies.

Our association was founded in 1978 by a group of orthopedic products distributors who were concerned that a major manufacturer was preparing to terminate all of them. The organization quickly grew beyond that objective, however. At the very first meeting, for example, the members of the fledgling organization came to understand the value of the collective experience and knowledge that resided in that one room. They shared-and continue to share today-best practices in training and compensating their sales reps, improving accounts receivable, dealing with group purchasing contracts, drawing up equitable contracts with manufacturers, and many other business issues.

Approximately 10 years ago, IMDA began sponsoring its annual Manufacturers Forum, which is the only venue in the industry in which manufacturers of innovative medical devices can meet with the owners of companies that can help them build their markets. More recently, the Association's members hashed out their concerns about vendor credentialing. The upshot was IMDA's active participation in an industrywide effort to draw up suggested standards for vendor credentialing, which were presented to the Joint Commission in March 2009.

For years, our members have struggled with the rising cost of professional and product liability insurance. For some of us, the cost involved made coverage simply unaffordable. We brought our problem to the attention of Alliant Insurance Services and Medmarc, and in 2007, were able to make available to our members a group program for product and professional liability insurance. By banding together, IMDA members were able to obtain more favorable pricing than most of our members could ever hope to achieve on their own.

IMDA members are passionate about what they do. Yes, we face some uphill battles. Hospitals are watching their spending, Group Purchasing Organizations GPOs are raising the barriers to entry, and the big national distributors keep growing. But we continue to have confidence and pride in our mission of introducing innovative medical devices that will become tomorrow's standard of care. It's what we did with such technologies as pulse oximeters, patient warming systems and mechanical heart valves. It's what we'll keep doing.

At IMDA, we have a saying: "Together we're better." Indeed, IMDA brings us together, makes each of us better and we continue to believe that IMDA makes healthcare better.

In 2008, Shawn Walker was instrumental in the formation of the Innovative Healthcare Access Coalition, or IHAC, a group of industry associations seeking to address common issues, beginning with vendor credentialing.

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