Ah, the dullness of TV advertising. These days it seems the only companies bucking up the cash to sell their products on television these days are the Big Pharma corps, soft-drink makers and a handful of non-offensive chain restaurants. Well, that’s an exaggeration, but hell if I know. I don’t really watch TV.

But TV advertising is incredibly annoying. In any given hour, you’ll likely be eye-raped and ear-raped with discussions of catheters, male enhancement drugs, and bulging muscular bodies to sell equally bulging and expensive workout equipment.

Since I’m in the Medical Supply business, I thought I’d explain why catheters are such big business right now, and hence why suppliers like Liberty Medical and Medical Care Club have no shame producing diatribes about dirty catheters for television.

First, to understand where all of these commercials came from, you need to know a little bit about catheters and the U.S. Medicare system.

Medicare (you know, that well-intentioned but enormously wasteful government entitlement program?) provides catheters to those with some form of incontinence where regular “cathing” is indicated (and there are multiple kinds of incontinence and causes, but we’ll not even start to get into all of that).

Catheters are meant to be disposed of, like diapers, dental floss and old batteries. You’re not supposed to re-use them. But Medicare policy-makers only rationed for the expense of 6 disposable catheters per week for patients. Considering many patients cath somewhere between 2-6 times per day, you can begin to see the problem…

Catheters are usually wrapped in sterile, individual packages and marked for “one time use”. Medicare, in an effort to save money, told folks it was OK to re-use this one-time medical product by boiling them and re-inserting them. Yeah, gross, I know. But, by doing so, money and resources are presumably saved… or are they?

Catheter infections (known as CAUTI) are some of the most common forms of infections in both hospital & home care settings. CAUTI develops when harmful bacteria pass through the catheter, or live on the catheter, and start reproducing in the bladder and/or the urethra.

CAUTI can be a nasty infection, especially for those who need catheters, and especially the elderly. It causes far more suffering (bleeding), drug treatments, and hospitalization time than simply giving patients enough catheters to cath up to 6 times per day. After many years of trying to convince Medicare to change this policy, research finally was available to show that X (the cost of care for infections) was greater than Y (simply providing an adequate number of catehters) and finally the rate was raised to 200.

A jump between 6 to 200 is a major policy change. And considering the ample medical supply mail-order and online business, this is a huge change in the market potential and a major shift in how people purchase their medical supplies.

So the next time your TV tells you to “STOP USING DIRTY CATHETERS”, you can thank Medicare.