Why UNSPSC for Medical Device Classification Is Problematic

Why UNSPSC for Medical Device Classification Is Problematic

There are several reasons why health systems struggle with medical device classification. One is the sheer volume of devices. Based on the various classification and nomenclature systems, estimates put the different kinds of medical devices between 5,000 to 24,000, and increasing steadily. Products range from very simple to quite complex, and from low cost to very expensive. 

Globally, there are many different systems focused on classifying these products, but the range of systems itself poses problems. The absence of standardized nomenclatures complicates medical device sourcing, procurement and tracking. This blog covers the particular challenges of the UNSPSC system, along with updated content and additional resources for healthcare sourcing teams.

Medical Device Classification Requires Language Standardization

This blog update adds useful information about other systems to the classification conversation. The update also includes links to additional resources, so healthcare supply chain teams can be fully informed about the important practice of medical device classification.

Standardized classification gives health systems a necessary common language for device discussions and reporting across facilities. Without a robust system, supply chain teams can’t make apples-to-apples comparisons for clinical products. This problem greatly complicates and delays the sourcing and contracting process.

Three Resources for Better Medical Device Classification

These three resources have been curated to provide specific learning about medical device classifications.

Resource #1 - GIC System White Paper

Among common systems like UNSPSC, FDA Product Code, GMDN and UMDNS, the Generic Implant Classification (GIC©) stands out as the gold standard for clinical products and physician preference items (PPI). 

If it’s important to understand the options you have for medical data classification, download this white paper, “GIC: A Multidimensional Classification System for Clinical Products.” It explains why GIC is a necessary alternative and supplement to other medical device classification systems.

GIC: A Multidimensional Classification System for Clinical Products

Get Educational White Paper for Healthcare Supply Chain

Resource #2 - Medical Device Classification Systems Chart

It can get confusing to keep up with the different classification systems and their uses. This blog outlines five of the most common classification systems that sourcing teams should know. The article includes a chart of the five most common medical device classifications systems to help you visualize the pros and cons of each.

Resource #3 - Medical Device Classification vs Categorization

In order to determine how classification drives category logic, it’s important to define the difference between categorization and classification. Categorization is considered more a general way of logically grouping similar items together. Clinical products can be subjectively categorized by size, color, shape or purpose. However, categorization does not allow for robust analysis of clinical products.

Classification is a more systematic approach to organizing data. Classification allows sourcing teams to resolve differences or define similarities based on certain characteristics, which allows for apples-to-apples comparisons among clinical products. This article contains an in-depth look at medical device classification and categorization.

Read on to learn about the United Nations Standard Products and Services Code (UNSPSC) as a medical device classification system.

UNSPSC: Good for General Use, Limited for Specialized Work

UNSPSC is the Swiss Army Knife of classification: many users, robust, and well known. And just like the Swiss Army Knife, UNSPSC classification is a great tool with many great use cases. It covers everything and is a great one-stop shop. The UNSPSC code is maintained and has a logical hierarchy and groupings. However, anyone that has owned a Swiss Army Knife – or any multi-tool – knows that, while it gets the job done, some jobs require a more specialized tool. And to get the job done on time and accurately, professionals invest in – and use – specialized tools. So why is relying on UNSPSC classification for medical devices problematic for healthcare supply chain teams?

The Reason UNSPSC Classification for Medical Devices Is Problematic

UNSPSC stands for United Nations Standard Products and Services Code. The UNSPSC is a standard in the global economy as it is governed by the UN (United Nations); and due to this, the codeset is well maintained.

As previously stated, UNSPSC is a great system, and we are not discrediting the fact that the UNSPSC classification and taxonomy have their place in the world; they do. However, UNSPSC often times is not a robust enough tool for medical devices.

An example that I often bring up to customers is that if you type “cherries” into the UNSPSC search engine, it will return over 375 results: canned maraschino cherries, fresh duke cherries, frozen organic black tartarian cherries, and the list continues. This is an oddly specific classification for a type of fruit that few could name more than one type of variety.

UNSPSC Cherries Search Result Page

The problem arises when you apply a broad classification system to items with important minute details. In orthopedic implants, for example, those details can have large impacts on the price of the device or the type of procedure that was done.

“When you can better classify cherries rather than orthopedic implants, it might be time to reconsider the way your organization classifies orthopedic components.”

How UNSPSC Classification Works

The UNSPSC is a classification and a taxonomy of items. Every time you add two digits onto the original two digits, you get greater specificity.

Below is how to get to Hip Joint Orthopedic implants using the UNSPSC codeset:
  • 42000000 – Medical Equipment and Accessories and Supplies
  • 42320000 – Orthopedic Implants
  • 42321700 – Hip joint implants
Under the last level, you have all the components that make up a total hip:
  • 42321708 – Femoral Hips Stems
  • 42321704 – Femoral heads
  • 42321703 – Acetabular cup liners
  • 42321702 – Acetabular shells
The UNSPSC total hip construction and what you cannot see:
UNSPSC Code What you get (Code Description) What you are missing from UNSPSC
42321708 Femoral Hips Stems Coated vs. Uncoated; Primary; Revision
42321704 Femoral Heads Ceramic vs. Metal; Non-resurfacing; Resurfacing
42321703 Acetabular cup liners Bipolar; Constrained;Revision
42321702 Acetabular shells Dual Mobility; Revision

And for all of these parts, we are missing the material and sizes from the UNSPSC codeset.

The UNSPSC is comprised of 4 two digit pairs, and if you look at the four main UNSPSC codes that make up a primary hip, you can see that any further subdividing of the parts cannot be done. We cannot determine if the femoral head is metal or ceramic, the number of holes the acetabular shell has, nor whether or not the femoral stem is coated or uncoated. And this is why relying on UNSPSC classification for orthopedics and medical devices is problematic.

Next Steps

UNSPSC can quickly and reliably add basic classification in your data. But the UNSPSC just doesn’t go all the way.

In areas such as Orthopedics where these details constitute different pricing and clinical significance, you can be missing the full picture. In your clinical practice and supply chain solutions, take a look at your organization’s orthopedic classification and ask yourself if you are able to see the whole picture. And remember: when you can better classify cherries rather than orthopedic implants, it might be time to reconsider the way your organization classifies orthopedic components.