GE Healthcare’s Venue 40 changed the healthcare industry and allowed the company to bring healthcare to developing markets that were otherwise not accessible without a product that could be used with little to no training. Unlike the more expensive imaging devices such as CT and MRI, Ultrasound (US) offers detailed image quality at a fraction of the cost. US is also simple to use which makes it easy prey for non-healthcare practitioners that have non-treatment purposes as its intended use.
The Venue 40 is portable and lacks knobs, keyboards and other germ collecting surfaces, therefore, making it ideal for mobile applications. That’s another way of saying that it’s easy for this imaging device to get into the wrong hands.
GE Healthcare set out to open new markets with the Venue 40. China and India were targeted because both nations represented countries with under-developed healthcare infrastructures and wide, open spaces where sick and elderly people required care. From a company’s profitability perspective, this targeted China and India BoP effort was ideal, and, GE Healthcare quickly gained 51% market share in South Asia (GE Case Study, 2009).
With complete disregard for cultural biases and irregularities, GE Healthcare was thrust into the emotional human rights issue of female feticide -- a practice completely unfamiliar to Wisconsin, USA based GE Healthcare. GE Healthcare’s marketing campaign all along was a BoP initiative intended to boost profits and develop a new market segment. When GE Healthcare realized that they had unwittingly become embroiled in a situation that they had not anticipated, they attempted to silence the local media and disrupt the NGO protests by putting a new spin on their BoP efforts.
When the Wall Street Journal and other International newspapers began to report about GE’s human rights allegations, the bad press threatened not only GE Healthcare’s access to the US market in India, but to the entire GE corporation’s reputation as a multi-national corporation in India. GE seemed more concerned that the issue of feticide was cutting into its business rather than its true concern for a human rights violation.
GE is good at marketing their marketing. Meaning -- they realigned their marketing messages to nations that favored boy fetuses by reinforcing the intended use of a portable Ultrasound device. New campaigns were launched promoting how useful a portable Ultrasound device would be in a rural area that lacked the necessary healthcare infrastructure. GE Healthcare promoted portable Ultrasound for trauma, injuries, and, ironically for obstetrics and gynecological uses – insisting that this device provides early detection of troubled pregnancies.
In 2008, GE Healthcare launched a poster campaign in India to promote “Rights of a Girl Child”. In addition, GE Healthcare wanted to ensure that they were not complicit with the use of their US technology for feticide. They added a label to each box sold to India.
It can be argued that GE Healthcare didn’t do enough to keep portable US out of the hands of feticide enthusiasts. A poster campaign and a box sticker hardly seem like enough of a CSR effort considering the gravity of feticide. It can further be argued that GE Healthcare did not do enough to ensure that the Venue 40 wasn’t sold to people for their usage of the device as a female fetus imaging device. Although GE Healthcare has shown some sales figures showing a slight dip in their sales as a result of more stringent measures to tighten who can buy the device, overall, they still reign supreme with an overwhelming market share majority.
GE Healthcare would not be able to limit their sale of the Venue 40 to large hospitals only. Such a sales constraint would contradict the intended purpose of a portable, “point of care” device that can be brought to non-ambulatory patients in need of care.
Moreover, GE Healthcare’s competitors, namely Siemens and Philips would aggressively attack the Indian Ultrasound market segment in hopes of taking away some or most of GE Healthcare’s dominant share. Siemens and Philips would have the advantage of “lessons learned” from GE’s BoP initiatives veiled as CSR efforts to perhaps more sensitively manage the human rights emotional and socio-economic issues. In order to maintain its dominant market share in the India US market, GE needs to continue to aggressively market its Venue 40.
GE Healthcare’s approach in limiting sales was hardly conservative. It did little more than train their sales representatives to guard against selling the Venue 40 to customers that might use the device for feticide. There is no evidence to support that GE Healthcare was in any way punitive with their own sales teams or with the customers that purchased the product for feticide. A conservative measure may have been to stop selling the Venue 40 in India, but, GE Healthcare did not do that.
Can GE Healthcare significantly influence a major culture change by exerting its legislative prowess in India? The more important question might be: why would they want to take this on, particularly given their market dominance? In my opinion, GE Healthcare has done little more than posters and stickers and has touted this as a CSR effort. They should do more to incent their own sales teams to stay away from sales to customers that might use the device for the sole purpose of feticide. GE Healthcare should also develop background checks on their potential customers to ensure that the Venue 40 is being sold to reputable healthcare practitioners. As market share leader, GE Healthcare should be the role model Medical Imaging supplier and lead the charge for a focused human rights awareness campaign. A market leader has influence and in GE Healthcare’s case, it has not to date tapped into that potential.
(n.d.). Retrieved from http://files.gecompany.com/gecom/citizenship/pdfs/ge_ethical_ultrasound_use_india_casestudy.pdf
(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.dicardiology.com/article/ge-commits-6-billion-enable-better-health- focusing-cost-access-quality
(n.d.). Retrieved from http://citizenship.geblogs.com/promoting-ethical-product-use/