Tag Archives: Picking Welch Allyn Products

Otoscope and Ophthalmoscope Set Alternatives: Med School Supply

Compare halogen and LED diagnostic kit bulbsWelch Allyn is the leading manufacturer of otoscopes and ophthalmoscopes, however the quality is also reflected in their higher prices. While many medical students want to purchase top name-brand equipment, and indeed this should be the case for such instruments as stethoscopes, this strategy is not always needed for diagnostic kits. Here’s the usual scenario: second year medical students from AMSA or some other group organize a “money-saving fundraiser” (let’s ignore that blatant oxymoron) and only highlight larger, more expensive, name-brand companies.   Often times there are even incentives to purchase the more expensive $500-$800 diagnostic sets to “save” on smaller instruments such as tuning forks or reflex hammers.

As mentioned in the Compare Welch Allyn series, it is incredibly important to talk to senior medical students at your school to ascertain the actual usage of instruments. This cannot be accurately assessed from manufacturer representatives, or even the second year medical students running the instrument sales.  If third and fourth year students carry their diagnostic sets with them at all times, a Welch Allyn set may be more beneficial.  If such diagnostic kits are used in a small handful of learning sessions that teach physical exam techniques during first and second years and are never utilized throughout the rest of medical school, we recommend the following.

Med School Supply Fiberoptic LED Otoscope Ophthalmoscope SetThe company Med School Supply (completely unrelated to this site despite the similar name) sells full-sized otoscope and ophthalmoscope sets for around $100.  Their standard model works just fine, although their LED otoscope set is actually more highly recommended due to the brighter, better lighting it produces.  You can clearly see the difference between their fiberoptic LED bulb and an older Welch Allyn halogen bulb in the top image of this article, and read more about the differences in the article How to Pick the Best Light Source.

Both kits work with standard otoscope tips, which means there is no reliance on this company for tips after purchasing one of their models.  Like the Standard Otoscope in the Welch Allyn description, Med School Supply otoscopes use a groove system to hold tips internally.  The ophthalmoscope uses the same halogen bulb for both kits, and is a solid basic model, without the bells and whistles as its WA counterpart. Unlike Welch Allyn, there is no built in rechargeable option for the handle.  These models take two C batteries, and that will last the entirety of medical school for the average user.

It is important to note that this company does not have the same quality control standards as Welch Allyn, so it is possible for them to sell and ship a set with a suboptimal component.  Nonetheless, they have a full lifetime warranty on all of their products, so any piece will be replaced free of charge with free return shipping at any point during your use of the instrument.  For the $400 difference between this and the Welch Allyn version, some find this compensated downside to be more than tolerable.


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Compare Welch Allyn Series: Building a Full Diagnostic Set

This is the sixth and final part of a series of posts on comparing Welch Allyn products that will help incoming first year medical students learn about and select different medical instrument components to construct the right Welch Allyn diagnostic set (otoscope and ophthalmoscope).

By now, you should have reviewed the other five articles in the series, and noted your preferences:
Compare Welch Allyn Series: How to Pick the Best Battery and Handle
Compare Welch Allyn Series: How to Pick the Best Case
Compare Welch Allyn Series: How to Pick the Best Light Source
Compare Welch Allyn Series: How to Pick the Best Otoscope
Compare Welch Allyn Series: How to Pick the Best Ophthalmoscope

Trade-offs of Pricing and Usage

It is important to remember that many medical schools only require use of personal diagnostic sets while learning how to perform a physical exam during preclinical years. Many rotations will either not require use of these instruments, or provide them to medical students and staff if needed. You should contact senior medical students at your school to ascertain the usage of these instruments when considering the price. For minimal use, you may want to consider purchasing from another manufacturer entirely. It is also a common mistake for incoming med students to assume these instruments will be used after med school. Specialties that use these instruments have more expensive versions or wall mounted models, and many specialties won’t need them at all.

Selecting Your Model

Most retailers do not carry all diagnostic kit combinations of the above Welch Allyn components. Most local companies will carry about 4 of the 75 total diagnostic kits manufactured by Welch Allyn, and that is actually sufficient for the large majority of med students. It is not uncommon for retailers to highlight the more expensive components, such as the PanOptic ophthalmoscope, and to list all other options by their model number. This can be a rather confusing selection process, which can be remedied below.

The following application is designed to assist in putting it all together and selecting the Welch Allyn diagnostic kit that is best suited for your needs and desires based on the results of the above articles. You may input your selections and the application will output the specific model number for your use with retailers. It will also output a list of the closest matches to your selection, in case your first choice is not carried by your retailer.

Please click one of the following from each category:

Relative Price $

Recommended Diagnostic Kit Model Number:


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Compare Welch Allyn Series: How to Pick the Best Case

This is the second part of a series of posts on comparing Welch Allyn products that will help incoming first year medical students learn about and select different medical instrument components to construct the right Welch Allyn diagnostic kit (otoscope and ophthalmoscope). The focus of this discussion is on Welch Allyn diagnostic kit cases, which is one of the easier choices to make as it doesn’t directly affect the use of your medical instruments.

The choices are straight forward: soft or hard casing. While many people instantly jump at the hard case, there are actually benefits and drawbacks to each.

Welch Allyn Hard CaseFirst, let’s look at the hard case, seen right, which are usually the default option offered upon purchasing a Welch Allyn diagnostic set.  Hard cases are designed to provide a shell of hard plastic around your instruments, with some padding between the case itself and the instruments inside. As such, dropping your Welch Allyn kit in a hard case is more likely to prevent the actual instruments themselves from directly feeling the shock of the floor. The other great benefit is that the inside of the case is basically a molding of the instrument components, meaning each part has its own place, and everything stays organized.

The biggest downside is that the hard case is somewhat bulky.  While it will fit into an empty white coat pocket, it will be somewhat of a tight fit to get the fabric around the corners.  It goes without saying that most med students don’t put too many other things in the white coat pocket that will carry their diagnostic kit, as it makes things difficult or impossible to fit everything. The downside of the organization benefit is that the molded inner casing essentially requires the user to organize everything before being able to close the case at all.  Some people find this annoying, especially if they are in a rush or have only one hand free.  It also means you can’t really re-use the case for new or other instruments. Lastly, the side-zipper requires the user to remove the entire kit from their pocket and set it down on a table to open. It’s rather difficult to access instruments directly from a pocket, or one-handed.

Welch Allyn Soft CaseNow let’s turn towards the soft case.  Depending on the retailer, you may need to specially request a soft case if you so desire it, but keep in mind that Welch Allyn instruments will most likely fit into any standard soft case, even if it is not made by Welch Allyn. The biggest benefit of soft casing is that it is a bit more convenient to use.  Instruments sit longitudinally inside the case, covered by a flexible padding layer, with an opening on top. The width of soft casing is thinner than the hard casing and without the hard corners, which means it easily slips into white coat pockets, even with other things in them. This flexibility and ability to squish into its surroundings also means it can even be slipped into pants pockets.  This is incredibly useful on a Pediatrics clerkship where white coats are optional.  The other big benefit is that the top opening allows for instruments to just be slipped in and out of the case while it’s still in your pocket.  No table for setup or organization time is needed.  Just grab and drop back in when done.  Lastly, it is important to mention that the open space inside the case means additional instruments can be placed within it.  When I bring a diagnostic kit with a soft case, my tuning fork and reflex hammer are stored within it in one convenient package as well. Thinking ahead, new or upgraded instruments do not require a new soft case, as they can be re-used.

The downsides are just the opposites.  Welch Allyn claims “both cases provide sufficient protection,” but the truth is that the soft case will transmit impact with the floor more than the hard casing. It also means instruments are laying loose inside the soft case and can bump and rub against each other.  This generally doesn’t actually represent any threat to the instruments as Welch Allyn claims all of their instruments are incredibly durable, but it should be pointed out.  As things are loose, grabbing otoscope tips that migrated to the bottom can be troublesome, but this is a moot point if you don’t need to bring your own tips because the clinic supplies them.

Still can’t decide? Let us help! Check all that apply:

I have a habit of dropping my cell phone frequently.
Ease of use is the most important aspect.
When I’m done using the vacuum, I never wind up the wire properly.
I want to keep my instruments as well protected and preserved as possible.
My school bag is a gigantic mess, but I know where everything is.
Presentation is everything.


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Compare Welch Allyn Series: How to Pick the Best Battery and Handle

This is the first part of a series of posts on comparing Welch Allyn products that will help incoming first year medical students learn about and select different medical instrument components to construct the right Welch Allyn diagnostic kit (otoscope and ophthalmoscope). The focus of this discussion is on Welch Allyn diagnostic kit handles and power sources, which house the battery and provide power for the otoscope or ophthalmoscope head. If you’re interested in the bottom-line short version, scroll to the bottom.

Welch Allyn Universal Desk Charger Not Needed for Med StudentsThe easiest way to start is to say what you do NOT need, and that is the Welch Allyn Universal Desk Charger (seen right).  These clunky things run upwards of $200 and represent the superfluous up-sell. The concept is good in theory, in that you can just drop your instruments into one of the holes to get it charged. As a med student on the wards, such a tactic is sub-optimal at best and a good way to get your gear stolen at worst. The actual handles have their own methods of charging which do not require this costly and unnecessary extension cord.

Now let’s turn to the real decision: Welch Allyn NiCad or Lithium Lightsaber power handle.  Each one has its pros and cons, but understanding your use of your Welch Allyn diagnostic kit as a med student is what should really determine your buying trend. Most med schools only require you to purchase and use personal diagnostic kits during the teaching of physical exam techniques in the preclinical years, with very rare use in specific clinics during third and fourth year of medical school. You should ascertain usage patterns at your med school to make sure you don’t jump at the high end model when it will only be used a handful of times for the entirety of your medical school training.

Welch Allyn Nickel Cadmium Battery Powered HandleThe Welch Allyn Nickel-Cadmium (NiCad) handle (shown left) is the baseline model that will serve as a cheaper but reliable power source.  The NiCad battery inside can be recharged by plugging the handle directly into any wall socket.  One of the biggest benefits of this power source over the Lithium below is that it can be converted to normal C-battery use. I have seen several med students forget to charge their handle, subsequently lose power in the middle of clinic, and then look really foolish for the rest of the day. With this model, having a couple of batteries in your bag means you can pop them in and keep going strong when the charge dies.  This is especially ideal for developing countries with unpredictable electrical sources, should you decide to go abroad.


There are a couple of downsides to the NiCad battery. First, it is heavier than the Lithium handles.  For most people, this is not significant and not an issue whatsoever. The only other consideration is that there are rumors (often times furthered by Welch Allyn representatives) that NiCad batteries in general may experience “charge memory” or “memory effect.” This refers to a historic observation that NiCad batteries will remember the point at which you charge them as “empty,” thus not utilizing the full capacity.  Most modern observations of this effect require over 1000 charges and partial-discharges for this to actually take effect. Suffice it to say, I have never heard of any medical student or resident complain about their NiCad handle losing charge time, and this may possibly by a result of the overall infrequency of use. Many medical students can get through all of medical school on just one set of 2 C batteries in their diagnostic kit.

Welch Allyn Lithium Ion Rechargeable HandleNext we have the “superior” (read: more expensive) option, the Lithium Ion battery powered Welch Allyn diagnostic kit handle.  This is one of their up-sells, advertised as “twice the battery life with just half the weight.”  It mostly speaks for itself, but there are a few considerations. Like the NiCad handle, it can be plugged into any electrical outlet via the hidden electrical AC plug within the handle.  However this handle cannot be converted to use C batteries.  In other words, when you run out of juice in this thing, you’re done until you can charge it in the wall again.  Again, keep in mind that a full charge will get you pretty far, so weigh things based on your schools requirements.  Another possibly-insignificant difference with this handle is that the green push-and-twist power button is on the side of the handle itself instead of on the top edge. There’s really no difference in ease of use.

In summary, the direct comparison is as follows:

Approx. Price Battery Life Compare Weight Recharge Options
Nickel Cadmium $150 ~60 minutes less light Wall Outlet or C Batteries
Lithium Ion $300 ~120 minutes lighter Wall Outlet only

Still can’t decide?  Let us help!  Check all that apply:

My med school requires infrequent usage of diagnostic kits.
Money is of no concern in the purchase of my instruments.
I have a habit of losing things easily.
I have a habit of forgetting to charge my cell phone.
I want to learn physical exam techniques using the absolute best equipment at my disposal.
I want to look like a jedi.



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