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How Can Medtech Succeed in Digital Health?

Image by Nattapon Kongbunmee / Alamy Stock Vector digital health
Digital health solutions must provide value that is proven and repeatable, said keynote speakers during a MedExec Women panel discussion at MD&M East.

Today’s booming digital health market offers medical device companies a lot of opportunity. However, as medtech sets out to develop digital solutions, companies do face several challenges, shared speakers during the MD&M East keynote panel, AI Will Change Go To Market Strategy - 4 Steps for Better Product Adoption from MedExec Women.

For instance, one challenge is that medical device companies have “been conservative followers in this space,” explained Tracy Robertson, VP, digital, for Stryker. “We are already seeing consumer/patients requiring that the healthcare system step up and make it easier for them—they are shopping, doing research, looking for quality in healthcare, and they are going to really challenge healthcare and medtech to make it easier for them.” Stryker is building a digital business, and Robertson said the company “is acting like a startup in the digital space.” It is looking at voice of customer, voice of organization, voice of data, what digital foundation is needed to build applications that provide meaningful outcomes for customers, and more, she said. “We’re going to have to move quickly because time is not our friend.”

Robertson sees digital as “a way to drive better outcomes and monetization models for our business. It is an enabler.”

“Part of the challenge is, what is digital?” pointed out Stephanie Wimmer, vice president, health economics, policy and reimbursement, medical surgical portfolio, Medtronic. “When you look at AI, it’s augmenting a physician’s service or replacing a physician’s service. There are a lot of flavors here.”

She added that “if we are going to do the same thing and it’s ‘nice to know information,’ that’s not an innovation.” And, “it’s building the evidence that’s critical.”  

Robertson said that “any time there is the word ‘predictable’ is in there, it’s got to have ‘proven and repeatable’—that’s got to be part of the equation.”

“The lead beneficiary should be the patient,” pointed out Robin P. Blackstone, MD, FACS, global head, preclinical, clinical, and medical affairs, for Ethicon, a Johnson & Johnson Company. “When we allow someone who is doing a laparoscopic procedure to see differently . . . patients ultimately benefit.”

Value

So, “how do we as an industry produce something that has value and how is that cost going to be shared generally?” Blackstone asked.

Laura Randa, CEO of Speranza Digital Therapeutics, shared several questions innovators must answer: “What is the business model? What is the go-to-market model? Is it payers? Integrated health systems? Consumers? Employers?”

The technology also has to be user-friendly for patients, added Wimmer. “It can’t require you to go to medical school to use it or a sales rep to stand there. It needs to be accessible to the patient.”

“Let’s talk about patient consumerism for a minute—how does it change the dynamic we are unpacking here?” asked discussion moderator Laurie Halloran, president & CEO, Halloran Consulting Group and co-founder of MedExecWomen.

“Think of yourself as a consumer first. What has happened over the last 10 or 15 years? Everything has become easier—hopefully,” said Robertson. “We have everything at our disposal, and we are taking that experience into the workplace and expecting that from everything in our lives. . . . Healthcare and medtech don’t get a ‘get out of jail free’ card on this one.”

Digital Health Data

Data is the other critical piece. “We all need to be very data driven—we can’t be making emotional decisions,” said Blackstone. “The younger generation of surgeons is driving this data approach,” she added. “The more data we can give them, the better theoretically they may be at doing their work.”

She also asked, “Where is your data coming from to fuel the AI engine? The quality of the data will determine how the AI engine can produce a result that is valuable or not. Really paying attention to that piece of this as you move forward is an important piece of the strategy.”

What Input Is Key for Successful Development of a Digital Health Solution?

“This is the moment where the inputs in the development process are crucial,” said Blackstone. “I would encourage anyone in this space to get really broad input.”

Robertson added that companies need “different perspectives at the table,” including “cross functional” input, and “you have to do it upfront.”

And “talk to everyone across that continuum who touches the patient,” said Wimmer. “Get that voice and make sure this incredibly elegant solution actually solves a problem that someone has.”

Who’s Going to Pay for Digital Health Solutions?

“Whoever gets the value should pay for it,” said Wimmer. “And sometimes that’s not the payer.” She also noted that use of digital technology “needs to be an 'instead of,' not an 'in addition to,' in the mind of a payer. . . . If it’s something that is going to be additive and not replacing something, that is a real challenge for payers.”

“The ecosystem of customers is expanding,” added Robertson. “Who is the customer, who gets the value, who pays for it.”

Some Closing Advice from Panelists

“Understand where your value is, and build the evidence to show that value,” said Wimmer. “If you are from a small company, protect your intellectual property. And get advice from others.”

Robertson: “Know your customer and be relentlessly focused on the customer.”

Blackstone: “Innovation, innovation, innovation. Be collaborative—find out where your piece of the puzzle fits, and pursue it relentlessly with the the right partners.”

Randa: “IP, trademarking—it’s going to go so fast and its really replicable, and it’s not as patent protected as for the drug industry, so get some good legal advice as you think about building it.

“It’s a time of change, and it’s the most exciting time in my career, so I’m excited to be a part of it,” Randa concluded.

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