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Of Contract Manufacturing, Wearables, and Obamacare

Contract manufacturers serving medical device firms are rapidly adapting thanks to healthcare reform and the blurring lines between healthcare and consumer technology. In the following Q&A, a manager from Vancive Medical Technologies weighs in on these issues.

Brian Buntz

Medical device developers are asking more from their contract manufacturers, says Crystal Humphreys, global market segment manager, Vancive Medical Technologies (Chicago). "The bar has really been raised. Rapid prototyping and robust materials knowledge are not only differentiators for contractors but competitive requirements," she says. Humphreys recommends that OEMs invest as much time as possible into collaborating with their contract-manufacturing partners, which helps the OEM, ultimately, end up with the best-possible product. "Getting the most out of the manufacturer-contractor relationship depends on mutual trust and a strong sense of accountability on both sides."

In the following Q&A, Humphreys gives advice for finding the best contract manufacturer for their needs and touches on the ramifications of Obamacare and the wearables craze.


MPMN: What kinds of questions should a medical device company ask when shopping for a contract manufacturer?

Humphreys: The device manufacturer should always ask for proof of quality. Strong contractors will have plenty of evidence and documentation to back up quality claims. It is also important to ask about turnaround time, equipment capabilities, and materials knowledge. OEMs also will want to inquire about value-added services and capabilities. For example, does the contractor bring specialized market knowledge to the table? If so, how will the device maker tap into that insight? If the contractor offers rapid prototyping, you might ask for more information about the contractor's raw materials supply chain. When a manufacturer commits to a contractor, that OEM is aligning itself indirectly with that contractor's upstream suppliers. Every link in the chain should be strong.


MPMN: What role has Obamacare had on the duties of contract manufacturers?

Humphreys: The Affordable Care Act has challenged not just contract manufacturers but businesses across the entire healthcare continuum to focus even more on innovation, quality, safety, and cost efficiency. There is greater awareness of the role everyone plays in addressing problems such as hospital-acquired infections, for example. Consumers are looking for innovation from their healthcare institutions and providers. Hospitals and physicians are looking for new solutions from device OEMs. In turn, those device manufacturers are scouring the market for fresh ideas, technologies, materials, and production capabilities from contractors and other suppliers. In the end, everyone is working to improve healthcare outcomes.


MPMN: Are there any special considerations for medical device companies that want to work with a manufacturing partner to make wearable devices?

Humphreys: Wearables development requires tremendous diversity of knowledge and skillsets. Medical device companies may find themselves looking both inside and outside of the healthcare industry to find partners. Depending on the application, wearable technology can demand expertise in areas such as body sensing, battery power, consumer electronics, cloud computing, algorithms, data security, wireless networks, social media, electronic medical records, and maybe even gamification. Wearable innovation requires business partners to leverage each other's strengths.

Brian Buntz is the editor-in-chief of MPMN and Qmed. Follow him on Twitter at @brian_buntz.

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