Medical device manufacturers need a doublespeak dictionary to decipher recent statements by some hospital chains and medical original equipment manufacturers.
On May 19, Universal Health Services Inc. joined the bandwagon of medical companies that say they're looking for alternatives to PVC products.
Like the other companies, UHS couched its statement with enough caveats to make observers wonder if they had decided anything at all. For example, the King of Prussia, Pa.-based company said it would not change its purchasing policy, and that it would buy non-PVC products only if they were cheaper or performed better and kept costs steady.
There's a real brainstorm — a company that is committed to buying the lowest-price, best-performing products. To put it mildly, that doesn't sound like they're in a big hurry to abandon PVC.
Likewise, Baxter International Inc., Kaiser Permanente, Consorta Inc. and Catholic Healthcare West all have announced plans to phase out PVC. But, like UHS, many of their statements have a wishy-washy character that makes it hard to gauge whether material change is imminent, down the road, or never.
One reason these firms are talking out of both sides of their mouth is because they're publicly held firms, and the anti-PVC proposals are coming from shareholders (often with links to Greenpeace).
The shareholder groups say the medical companies need to drop PVC as soon as possible, and they paint the issue as a health, safety and environmental problem. Not too many corporate leaders are willing to simply say no to that kind of pressure. Especially when they don't need to.
Instead, they're playing both sides of the issue. Yes, they say, they're concerned about PVC, and they're committed to finding alternative materials. Meanwhile, they certainly don't want to admit that a product they're using, and have used for years, is somehow bad. So they promise to investigate alternatives — a process they're all doing anyway — without agreeing to any firm time line for phasing out vinyl.
You have to question the spin that the various interest groups put on this news. Are Greenpeace and Health Care Without Harm really encouraged by toothless anti-PVC statements? Basically, all they've accomplished is getting the companies to acknowledge that some of their shareholders are concerned about PVC.
Whether or not Greenpeace can hold the medical industry's feet to the fire with these statements is questionable, especially if the companies are explicit now when they say they don't believe there's anything wrong with PVC.
No, this isn't a case where critics really expect the companies to change. Instead, it's a game of perception and spin control that they hope will give PVC a black eye, and will turn public sentiment against all vinyl products.