Looking for medical supplies on...eBay

February 19, 2010
Seth L. Toback, MD, FAAP

No matter where you practice or how well your practice is run, physicians all have one thing in common: the rising cost of everything!

Savings on everything from office supplies to medical equipment can be found somewhere you may never have thought to look . . . eBay. Yes, that's right, eBay. For those of you only casually aware of eBay, thoughts of vintage Bon Jovi tour posters might come to mind, but those practitioners who have been bold enough to look know the treasure trove of bargains waiting to be found there.

In a nutshell, eBay is a Web site that puts buyers and sellers in a virtual store and lets them conduct business transactions safely within a structured environment of rules and regulations. Now, you might think, "Who on earth would buy used medical equipment?" Well, in recent years eBay has become a marketplace for new as well as used merchandise with an incredibly diverse selection of medical equipment, from tongue depressors to defibrillators.

There are two ways to purchase items on eBay: bidding for them or purchasing them immediately for the advertised price. Items will be listed with a starting bid price and/or the "buy it now" price, and now auction items and for-sale items can be viewed separately. The eBay help section provides clear and easy-to-follow instructions to get you up and buying (or selling) in no time.

Buying anything on eBay requires taking a little leap of faith, but here are a few useful tips. Much can be learned about the seller from the person's or organization's name and sales volume. Established sales organizations will have a professional-sounding member ID and hundreds of sales, yet great deals can be found from Bart54, the medical student who previously has sold only a pair of stereo speakers and now is downsizing his barely used medical school accoutrements. You can glean more information by reading specific feedback that previous buyers have left about the seller. Reliable sellers should have close to 100 percent positive comments in their feedback sections, all of which you can read.

My personal experience shopping on eBay for the office and for myself has been quite rewarding. I sold my bulky hand-held otoscope/ophthalmoscope and purchased the pocket-sized versions from Welch Allyn. I saved $70 on a new Littman Cardiology III stethoscope, $265 on a used Nellcor handheld pulse oximeter, and more than $200 on a box of 12 Dermabond tissue adhesives (this is one of those items you want to come factory-sealed with a known expiration date).

My prior office has an eBay account where we keep our corporate credit card on file. The supplies and equipment have been of high quality and typically are shipped as least as fast as those bought from most conventional medical suppliers. Like all good bargain hunting, merchandise selection on eBay is hit or miss, so if your office requires 2,000 cotton balls every month, perhaps you should look elsewhere when shopping for this item.

Happy hunting, and remember: Primum non nocere, caveat emptor.

First, do no harm, and let the buyer beware.

Seth L. Toback, MD, MMM, FAAP, is director, medical affairs, for MedImmune LLC in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and is a former practicing pediatrician and urgent care medical director. Send your feedback to meletters@advanstar.com
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