I remember when I first set foot in an AAOS annual meeting exhibit hall.  I was wowed.  The expansive room housed booths that more closely resembled modern architected monuments than a place to showcase product portfolios and capabilities.  This wasn’t just a conference, this was vendor show-boating at its finest.  The craft had clearly been perfected and money, apparently, was no obstacle in achieving a “great show”.  Before my eyes, tens of millions of dollars disappeared into modular, space-age booths, some in multi-story, several thousand square foot volumes.  Clearly, the bigger the booth the better the                                              (you can fill in the blank here; company, product, etc.) must be.

That was over a decade ago,  and as anyone who has recently walked the exhibit hall of an AAOS annual meeting can attest, the same grandiose display of overwhelming excess can be seen today.  However, one thing has changed – the state of US Healthcare.  At a time when healthcare spending is growing at 1.5 times the rate of GDP and already accounts for more than 20% of our total spend, it begs the question as to the appropriateness of the whole thing.  Do the major orthopaedic device companies really need to spend millions promoting essentially the same thing as their neighbor?

While the overall theme of education is clear throughout the entire meeting (clearly that is the main intent of the venue), it seems like the line between “Exhibit Hall” and “Lecture Hall” has been blurred.  In recent years, device companies have begun providing educational lecturers and labs featuring their products within their actual exhibits. Of course, without industry support, events like AAOS would not be possible and certainly healthcare is not the only sector that leverages that relationship.  However, what separates healthcare from every other industry is that the consumers paying for the products are patients – not by choice, but by need.  A person who suffers a traumatic orthopaedic injury does not do research on fracture patterns and compares implants before they need them .  They rely on a broken system where as the surgeon that chooses the device doesn’t pay for it and has very little, if any, incentive for being cost conscience. This is no secret to the major exhibitors at AAOS and the major device companies will go to any expense to win over surgeons.  Is it too much to ask if they spent a little less on the laser lights?

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