Amid frightening reports of hospital bed and ventilator shortages in places where the coronavirus has hit the hardest, Medtronic had a conversation with Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk about making ventilators.
Some call him a genius, others call him a conman with a questionable track record, but regardless of your opinion of Elon Musk, one thing is for sure: If Musk wants to talk ventilators, Medtronic will listen.
Tweets from Musk and Medtronic triggered a heated debate over the weekend about how the world's largest public medical device company might be able to work across industries to solve problems associated with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
"Just had a long engineering discussion with Medtronic about state-of-the-art ventilators. Very impressive team," Musk tweeted on Saturday.
Medtronic acknowledged Musk's tweet and added that addressing COVID-19 is a group effort. The company said it is grateful for the discussion with Musk and Tesla as it works across industries to solve problems and get patients and hospitals the tools they need. Medtronic ended its tweet with the sentiment that, "we're all in this together."
Fans of musk welcomed the news.
Others were less optimistic.
One reason Musk's tweet was met with so much derision is that he has previously expressed the opinion that the reaction to COVID-19 was overblown and he reportedly kept his California manufacturing facilities open even after shelter-in-place policies went into effect. He has since complied with the government's orders to close the plants, however.
Medtronic recently reported making progress to increase ventilator production worldwide. The Dublin, Ireland-based company said it has increased production by more than 40% and is on track to more than double its capacity to manufacture and supply ventilators in response to the urgent needs of patients and healthcare systems across the globe confronting COVID-19.
"Medtronic recognizes the acute need for ventilators as life-saving devices in the management of COVID-19 infections. High-performance ventilators play a critical role in the management of patients with severe respiratory illness, such as COVID-19, who require assistance because they cannot breathe effectively," the company said. "By placing a patient on such a ventilator, the patient’s lungs are permitted to rest and recover while the ventilator performs the functions of supplying oxygen and simulating the actions of breathing. Without ventilation support, some patients with severe respiratory disease might not survive."
Medtronic makes the Puritan Bennett 980 and Puritan Bennett 840 high-performance ventilators in Galway, Ireland, which are primarily designed for critically ill patients in high acuity setting. A COVID-19 patient (with or without an underlying health issue) could be such a critically ill patient, the company said.
Medtronic ventilator demand and supply
Ventilator demand has significantly increased in light of COVID-19, and Medtronic says explained that ventilator manufacturing is a "complex process that relies on a skilled workforce, a global supply chain, and a rigorous regulatory regime to ensure patient safety."
In Medtronic’s Ireland ventilator manufacturing facility, the company currently has more than 250 employees dedicated to ventilator manufacturing and plans to more than double that number, including transferring staff from other Medtronic sites to support ramp up activities. Additional manufacturing shifts have been put in place and new manufacturing shift patterns are being introduced to bring the plant to 24/7 operation. These efforts combined are expected to enable the company to more than double its manufacturing capacity for ventilators.
The company said it prioritizing high risk/high needs areas for ventilator allocation on a weekly basis for global distribution through its supply chain.
“Medtronic recognizes the demand for ventilators in this environment has far outstripped supply,” said Bob White, executive vice president and president of the minimally invasive therapies group at Medtronic. “No single company will be able to fill the current demands of global healthcare systems. However, with all manufacturers increasing their production and through partnerships with governments, hospitals, and global health organizations, Medtronic is committed to getting more ventilators into the market and to the right locations in the world to help doctors and patients dealing with COVID-19.”
Other ventilator manufacturers
As Medtronic said, no single company will be able to fill this extreme demand alone.
Other ventilator manufacturers include: St. Louis MO-based Allied Healthcare Products; Franklin Lakes, NJ-based Becton, Dickinson and Company; Chicago, IL-based GE Healthcare; Amsterdam, Netherlands-based Philips; and San Diego, CA-based ResMed. Many of these companies are also working to increase manufacturing capacity and supply of the devices.
"As the global pandemic evolves, there is unprecedented demand for medical equipment, including ventilators," GE Healthcare CEO Kieran Murphy said in a statement released Thursday. "We continue to explore all options to support this increased need."
Specifically, GE Healthcare said it is adding manufacturing lines to ventilator production and increasing the number of shifts to produce around the clock. The company is also hiring additional manufacturing employees and shifting current employees to support increased demand immediately.