Three Insights into the Future of Medical Device R&D

Tim Jennings, President
Custom Case Group (CCG)

As a provider of medical device transport and protective cases, my company has spent many decades on the periphery of the medical device industry. But we’ve found that the peripheral position gives us a unique vantage, allowing us to keep an eye on trends in their earliest days. That’s because, early on, innovative R&D tends to shape the flow of our custom case orders. For example, details like manufacturers’ one-off orders and changes in the sizes and features of the cases they order give us early clues to where the industry may be headed.

Most recently in the custom case business, these clues are pointing to a medical industry going mobile—and fast. Following are three insights that better explain why we believe jumping on the mobile bandwagon is a really smart move for any company in the mobile medical device supply chain.

CCG_MedicalDev#1 – Manufacturers are Ordering More Mobile Device Cases

A sharp increase in orders for smaller and more mobile device cases is the greatest indicator of the industry change so far. Not just medical device manufacturers but also non-profit outreach organizations and educational institutions are looking for cases to protect things like medical simulator training devices, portable kidney dialysis machines, virtual operating room equipment and everything in-between.

A ton of recent research has come out showing that, in the long term, “on-call” medical appointments are cheaper than in-office care—reports we believe are the major inspiration for the shift. One of these studies revealed that the 2014 Independence at Home program saved Medicare about $13,600 per patient and a total of $25 million that year. Another study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society showed that Medicare house calls cut costs by 17 percent in 2014 by reducing hospital and nursing home admissions. Just this year, Health Affairs and the California Health Care Foundation (CHCF) published a report showing that enrolling senior and homebound patients in an in-home medical and wellness care program also reduced costs.

#2 – Medical Organizations Are Responding

If the manufacturers are stepping up their mobile device R&D, it stands to reason that they’re doing so to meet increased demand for these devices from medical organizations. And the news is certainly confirming this fact, as more and more stories about new programs built on the mobile model are finding their way into the mainstream media. Just within the past couple of months, two mobile medical programs based in California have launched and have met with early success. The first, which was designed by pediatrician Renee Dua, is an app called Heal that allows parents to arrange at-home care for kids. Parents have access to the appointment system every day of the week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The other program, called Express Care at Home, is managed by Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. It also incorporates a mobile app that patients can use to schedule routine home visits.

#3 – Supply Chain Companies Adapting to the Change Are Benefitting

As with any industry change, companies willing to adjust their processes and paradigms to accommodate the mobile shift will end up on top. Below are a few approaches we’ve observed from our vantage point and a few we’ve developed and found beneficial at CCG.

Make the ‘Need for Efficiency’ Fundamental in Every Design
Fast movement is what most obviously characterizes mobile medicine. So, for example, whenever we get a custom case request, we create the product to address the need for efficiency. On a practical level, smaller and more compact medical devices are becoming the norm because “small and compact” enables efficiency. Our design philosophy holds that the case is part of the device, not an accessory to it. Therefore, it, too, should be small and compact. To keep your company’s designs one step ahead, focus everything on efficiency, whether or not the client’s request is centered on a mobile device.

Adjust Processes to Accommodate the Pace
Updates, revisions and innovations have been constant in the medical device industry. But as manufacturers are being asked to recreate stationary technology to fit a mobile model, the pace of these updates, revisions and innovations has really picked up speed.

As a result of the rapid pace in R&D, we’re seeing a lot more back and forth between providers and manufacturers. As an example, many of our customers provide products for knee and spine procedures, which are becoming increasingly specialized and tailored to individual patients. Because more specialized procedures require more specialized devices and equipment, many practitioners prefer to decide which tools and equipment to use for surgery, during surgery. In response to this need, several of our customers ship custom cases filled with complete product lines to medical facilities, so surgeons are able to choose devices and tools in real time. Then, once the surgery is done, the clinic ships the case back to the manufacturer, who then takes an inventory to identify which items were used and then charges the facility for those items. The manufacturer replaces the missing tools and devices, and the “product line in a box” is made ready for the next procedure.

As we’re being asked to create cases to accommodate this arrangement more and more often, we’re seeing that the manufacturers adapting to the model are doing quite well.

Recognize That ‘Standard Procedure’ is a Thing of the Past 
None of us on the supply chain can afford to rely on those “old faithful” procedures of the past to meet the majority of customers’ needs today. The industry is simply changing too fast. For your company to succeed with the shift, you need to specialize in customization. Fortunately, we’ve found that specializing in custom design is really as simple as asking lots of questions—every time, for every project. You need to learn as much as you possibly can about the procedures and patients your products will support because there’s an excellent chance these details will be very different, every single time.

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