Sunday, December 6, 2009

Is NASS Relevant?

Recently, one of our readers posed an interesting question on our blog site; "Is NASS relevant?" Our readers must admit that was an excellent question. Over the last few years NASS has become a venue for the Spine Cartel. Just look at who gets all the exposure. As the Spine Cartel's booths get bigger (did everyone take notice of NuVasive's?) the companies that are truly attempting to bring exciting and potentially cutting edge technologies are being push to the back of the convention center, or the periphery. These smaller companies are being treated like parking lots amongst skyscrapers! Let's be honest, its become a Boys Club where the members aren't even respectful of the companies that subsidize their annual luau! Isn't it funny when we hear NASS prodding its members to make sure they walk the floor as a sign of appreciation? Is there any product at the show that has not, or would not be shown to these surgeons on their own home turf?

How entertaining is their website when it states, "if you are looking to find a captive audience of qualified decision makers to purchase your products or services, NASS WOULD LIKE TO OFFER YOU A SOLUTION that will get you and your products in front of more than 3,500 spine care professionals in one location." Solution, just get me some time in their office or between cases! The last thing these people want to do is hear some rep selling them on something they do not want to use, or have heard a million times before! TSB would like to know how many leads the start-up and early growth stage companies received from this year's meeting? I would bet less than expected, and in some cases non of real interest. This organization has been sucking money out of our industry to feed its members, residents and fellows, then lobby us to subsidize their speakers, offer residents travel scholarships, sponsor Cyber Cafes, luggage and airline check-ins and a massage relaxation station. You would think we were running a professional basketball team! In addition, you can pay to have your name on a conference tote bag and portfolio, sponsor a city map guide (are you kidding, everyone knows where the local strip bars are) and have your company's name on hotel keys. Who knows, you might even get on an elevator and see an advertisement about your company. All for the ridiculous price of a gillion dollars.

How much longer will we pander to an organization that has given us mediocrity in terms of quality and content? The real work is done everyday in the trenches by these surgeons! Today we have NASS, CNS, AAOS, AANS, CSRS, ISSLS, SRS, SAS an alphabet soup array of organizations that in all respect center around the same theme. In addition to these meetings we have the Alex Vaccaro and Todd Albert Meeting in Cabo (is this still in Mexico), Robin Young's Spine Technology and Stem Cell Summit, and last but not least the Dubai Spine Masters (is this a tennis tournament?). These are just venues that are just sucking the life and money out of our industry! It's almost like buying a new marketing report for a thousand dollars every year only to find out that things really haven't changed? It's all in the data, oooooooh!!!!! What will we learn at CSRS that we couldn't have discussed at NASS, only three weeks prior to going skiing in Utah? If I'm skiing, I'm skiing with my friends! Aren't these meetings self-serving? One of my neuro-spine surgeons was laughing at the industry back in May while attending the 2009 AANS meeting when he said, " I thought I was coming to a meeting that would have some new neuro-vascular products when all of a sudden another spine meeting broke out!" So now we meet in March, we meet in April, we meet in May, we meet in June, we meet in October, we meet in November, we meet in December. It's a wonder we get anything done attending these meetings. Is medicine and innovation moving at the speed of light that within a few months there have been so many changes to report about, or, are these organizations designed to feed some people's egos and wallets?

Maybe if we focused on the task at hand we would offer better solutions for patients, and find new and innovative ways to develop products faster at a reasonable cost to the customer. 100% Fused you are 100% right, "Is NASS Relevant?" TSB wants to know what our readers think?

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results!"


  1. I agree. Further I think you missed one point that as an industry will hurt industry the most.

    Think about this. FDA is one organization. CMS is one organization. Private insurance is thousands of seperate organizations. And the governmet is further coming in now with all kinds of compliance issues.

    Our industry is thousands of multiples more fragmented. The real problem though is that industry thinks that its competitors are the enemy. In my opinion industry should realize that although companies are the competition in product development and at the hospital (at the point of selling) in EVERY other function industry should be in unison. Unless we want a future of 3 phase clinical trials (ala pharma), enormous compliance restraints, and dental reimbursement.

    As such the only chance of industry pushing the curve of new and existing technology getting to market as fast as possible and being paid for is for industry unison. This has been the job of organizations like aaos, nass, and advamed. Unfortunately all they care about is what you wrote about and their annual rite of profitability.

    The truth is todays environment is more complex and needs unison in decision making. The reality is that these organizations were built in the 1990's ortho world which was much less complex. The truth is that these organizations are not qualified to provide the only function that will truly matter over the next 10 years.

  2. Home: You make a great point about unity, unfortunately, we do not function like the pharmaceutical industry which spends more time collaborating than litigating.

  3. The last truly independent NASS was in Minneapolis in 1994. Every company a 3' x 3' table around a stack of box lunches, and a glass beer mug with logo for the memories. In Washington 1995 the erosion started, it got worse in Vancouver in 1996 and by 2000 in New Orleans the scientific program and its presenters had been hand picked in Memphis. Since then, a few other companies have been able to sneak an occasional presentation in. As TSB states, the innovative companies are not heard of either in the lecture halls or on the exhibition floor, but do foot a large chunk of the bill. But the obvious and most visible rules are religiously followed; so no longer will anyone get a 1 dollar 50 beer mug. Regarding leads for the smaller companies, my guess the average lead this year cost about 5,000 dollars, and any viable lead easily double or triple that. TSB and Home are right in that smaller companies should begin to shun these meetings, and that organizations as NASS, AAOS and Advamed are not really of any use to them.

  4. Or take your pick of the various ski meetings which have turned into no more than big egos putting on a meeting for camaraderie and free skiing - no support of industry what so ever just use for $$. Dr. Y?

  5. I dusted off my 2004* well worn copy of 'A Dummies Guide to Medical Device Marketing: Spine and Ortho Edition'. Yep, there it is, right under 'Making Conferences Make Sense':

    "...and, if all else fails, remember these words, 'your absence will be noticed more than your presence." Sage words to soothe the grumbling Controller.

    The fact that NASS and the rest of these meetings are starting to feel like newly minted suburbs with foreclosure notices on every third door is because once the pursuit of money replaces the creation of Value, anything can and will happen. Just don’t be the last man out!

    I see two likely scenarios (note, a utopian, industry collective didn’t make it):

    Scenario A:

    As the regulatory hurdles rise, industry-to-surgeon welfare, eh..hmm, consulting programs increasingly become insolvent, and the pool of investor capital shrinks, marketers might have to start putting an NPV to our empty booths and we’ll get back to using the money to make ‘things’.

    Then I read:
    “Mike Matson, Wells Fargo's astute equity analyst, went through the arduous task of physically counting the number of implant and biologic companies exhibiting at NASS over time and found that the number of companies officially registered at the meeting increased this year. 109 in 2009 versus 92 in 2008 to be exact.”

    And then scenario B was born:

    With nothing else to build, the delusion grows. Even more plexiglass and formica is consumed to build exhibits. With no convention hall big enough to contain them, the spine industry builds a fleet of 18-wheel mobile homes that double as ‘training’ centers, exhibits, and low rent office space until we end up looking like the ‘Road Warrior’.

    The problem, in practical terms is, we’re in the transition. So until it all plays out, the game plays on.

    *Anyone have a copy of the 2009 edition?