Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Can specifiers tell the difference?

Doubtless, you familiar with the old 'taste tests': "can you tell the difference between Stork and butter?" or "Coke and Pepsi?". You may also be aware of the ploys that some of those running the tests use to confuse the taste buds during such tests. However, many will also be familiar with the cry of "clinical preference" which isn't a million miles away from the 'taste tests' but rely on deference to those who say they can tell the difference between one type of surgical glove, for example, and another. The challenge has long been how to argue with someone who's a specialist in their field and cuts people up for a living! The problem, of course, isn't unique to clinicians but, in my experience variations are fairly common across most sectors. A paper by Fritz, et al., in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences should provide some hope.

Fritz and Co have been experimenting with a variation of the 'taste test' on violins, l suppose we should refer to it more correctly as the 'tone test'. Anyway, they wanted to establish if some of the world's leading violinists really could tell the difference between new and old violins, including five Stradivarius (which everyone knows are the best!!). The 'tone test' has surprised many in that the leading violinists not only couldn't tell the difference but many actually preferred newer instruments!

Procurement managers need to hone some of the skills of Fritz et al., in trying to create and gain the ownership of specifiers for 'blind tests' - if specifiers really can tell the difference the test will provide the evidence, if they can't then the problem is resistance to change and possibly supplier loyalty (symptoms of a different aliment). Overcoming that resistance to change will require political and diplomatic skills and tenacity, but it could make markets more effective, save a fortune and stimulate innovation.  

I'd be interested to hear of some of the more innovative 'taste tests' you use in procurement?

P.S. On the 10 April 2014 there was widespread media coverage on how the NHS had 'wasted' £473m on treatments which were more expensive yet with no additional benefit - exactly what this post was about. You can read Ben Goldacre's account of the Tamiflu research  here.

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