Vive la différence! France is certainly unique in a lot of ways, but its healthcare system is perhaps even more so. Virtually the entire population is covered by the National Health Program and public and private hospitals co-exist peacefully (there are 1,000 public hospitals and 2,600 private facilities.)

According to Tradeport, the French market for medical equipment in 1999 was $3.9 billion, with imports counting for $2.1 billion of that. Imports from the U.S. represent roughly 33 percent and hold a very strong reputation.

Roughly 50 percent of all medical device service comes from a manufacturer’s representative. The remainder is split between in-house biomed shops (30 percent) and ISOs (20 percent). GE is the only firm that has established a noticeable presence in multivendor service, reflecting the high regard U.S. equipment enjoys in the French market.

The government imposed spending controls in the mid-1990s and today Parliament sets annual healthcare spending targets. Under the system, both public and private hospitals are subject to government approval for location, development and major medical investments.

According to Didier Vallens, a clinical engineer at the Hospital European Georges Pompidou in Paris, the biomed job market is growing steadily, thanks in part to more rigid hospital accreditation processes and a stronger emphasis on quality assurance. Tradeport says imaging equipment is in very high demand in France, and imaging service jobs will accompany that growth. Telemedicine and PACS networks are also expected to be high growth areas.

Educational standards are fairly high. Vallens says the typical in-house shop has at least one clinical engineer with a five-year degree, along with superior technicians who hold a four-year degree, and other administrative staffers.

“Most (75 percent) of clinical engineers have been through classes at the University of Technology of Compiegne, whether initial or continuing education,” says Vallens. “Of course manufacturer’s training is followed by technicians.”

Standards are a hot topic. One standardization body (ANFOR) is currently drafting good clinical engineering practices, but the effect is yet to be felt. The two main groups working in the interest of French biomeds are the Association for Biomedical Technicians and the Alliance for Biological and Medical Engineering.

Another touchy subject is the cell phone. Everyone in Paris has a cell phone. Vallens says they have been banned on hospital floors at present, but other technologies are being investigated for use in the hospital.