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Distributing Healthcare

Fri, 05/31/2013 - 3:20pm
Sean Fenske, Editor-in-Chief, MDT

One of the most interesting things about my position is seeing the changes in one of the most dynamic industries around—the medical device industry (and, in a broader sense, the healthcare industry). In my 13+ years of watching, writing, and reporting on this industry, I’ve seen many changes and technological advances. It truly is remarkable to think about how far certain sectors of the industry have come in what is really a very short period of time.

As a result, I enjoy looking ahead at where things are headed. Without a crystal ball to tell me definitively, it’s simply an entertaining exercise to see how close to reality I can come. In my last blog, I did this when I spoke about the coming of the “consumer age.” This is in reference to the emergence of medical device manufacturers pitching their products directly to the consumer. I wasn’t talking about the items that are already getting this treatment, such as products for diabetics or monitoring devices. Rather, I was talking about devices that address procedures where a device may have traditionally be selected by the doctor. Something like a pacemaker or orthopedic implant. It’s basically the way pharmaceutical marketing has developed to what it is today. Prescription drugs are being shopped directly to the patients who can then consult with their doctor about a particular option.

Well, I was wrong. That degree of marketing is a lot closer than I ever envisioned. Not even a couple weeks went by before I saw an ad for an orthopedic implant in a consumer style commercial. I was actually quite surprised to see it so soon after I had just mentioned it in that column (didn’t realize my influence would have such a rapid impact…kidding). I don’t want to say who the medical device company was who ran the ad as I’m not certain my memory of it is accurate (and unfortunately, I didn’t think to write down the name of the company or device at the time, but it was a major name). Regardless, that “consumer age” for medical devices is, without a doubt, already here.

So the next question is, “What’s the next step? How do device makers get their products out to the consumer faster and more efficiently?” Will there be vending machines for certain types of medical devices? Will they remain mostly distributed at pharmacies and through doctors? Will there be medical devices commonly sold at large retailers next to toilet paper and shampoo?

The answer to some of these is “Yes” and technically, there are medical devices already being sold via all of these distribution methods. But I’m really looking ahead at things, like advanced diagnostic products or perhaps even critical therapy products. Will there be a day when you can walk into a store, purchase a PillCam, and, with provided computer software, view the video feed on your own PC along with your doctor who is logged in remotely? Would your doctor be able to control the PillCam, again remotely, while you are both discussing what is being displayed?

Another factor that really changes things is the impact smartphones and healthcare-related apps are making. These types of devices and “programs” are redefining what qualifies as a medical device. Instead of going to a doctor’s office to get a necessary heart monitor, will your doctor simply instruct a patient to download an app from the Apple store and then grant the doctor permission to view the results remotely?

The thought of what is coming in terms of medical device technology and the access the public will have to it is incredibly exciting. I can’t wait to see the developments in this area. And when I do, I’ll try to remember to write it down so I can share it with you.

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