Having never experienced Medica before, I read numerous blogs and advice about how to make the most of Medica as both a visitor and as an exhibitor. Those in the know advised to wear flat shoes, keep hydrated, devour every type of pretzel available and avoid the boiled white sausage! Well I achieved top marks for all of the above but despite being told how vast the trade fair was, I was literally floored by the expanse and the wealth of innovation in each hall.
With 17 Halls and conference suites showcasing laboratory equipment, diagnostics, commodities, consumer goods, physiotherapy/orthopaedic equipment, communication systems/technology, electro medicine and hospital equipment – every section had a very different flavour and industry experts to engage with to gain an understanding of their product, innovation and healthcare solution.
My objective for attending the trade fair was simply to learn. A simplistic objective yes, but with nearly 5,000 international exhibitors this was no mean feat. It would be impossible to reproduce all my findings from the 2 days though there were common threads which synergised all my newly acquired information.
Minimisation in a hi-tech world
An overriding observation was the demand for some medical devices to be as microscopic as possible without impacting performance. Micro motors, nasal gastric tubes, catheters, portable devices for self-administration, substance abuse test kits etc. One of the challenges however of simplifying a device to make it smaller and compact is the visual appeal and it not looking “hi-tech” in our highly technical and advanced world. Feedback from a distributor of blood testing kits explained that the clinicians often push back on handheld calculator type devices to test bloods as they look “too basic”. This is in comparison to a fully automated machine at a laboratory where the bloods get sent and typical come back within 1 week with a result. These handheld kits however produce a result in 20 minutes and are small enough to have in ample stock within a GP’s surgery, whereas the machines in the lab are often the length of 2 GP’s rooms. The struggle is not only with the devices not looking sophisticated enough, it’s also the additional expense of having these stocked in GP’s surgeries as the NHS will have already agreed contracts with the laboratories to perform their testing, so why double up? The current 1 week process works, however this raised a question, if you were a patient in a doctor’s surgery, wouldn’t you rather wait 20 minutes for a result and have the relevant treatment prescribed pretty much there and then? The traditional method of sending blood tests away would still run in the background for more “advanced” testing by the “hi-tech” machines but as a patient - a week of waiting would be an unnecessary delay in treatment if these basic tests were more accessible “in-house”. The exhibitor I met showed me the calculator type device and although simplistic, it does the job. Similar to the pregnancy test device which has not particularly advanced in the last decade and is still far from looking ”hi-tech”, it ultimately does the job, is relatively cheap to manufacture and easy to stock. Sometimes the simple can still suffice?
Sector Diversification from Veterinary and Dental
A lot of the exhibitors initially started launching their products in the veterinary sector and have diversified in to medical devices for humans, primarily due to less regulatory controls. I met with a company who distribute the testing kits so farmers can use laboratories to test their cattle for diseases. Their 96 tube testing tray is also used in food science and they’re underway to diversify further into human testing. I met a business from Chesterfield who manufacture grips for surgical instruments, again not only in to medical but also veterinary markets, yet they sense the veterinary regulations will change and become more stringent as animal welfare heightens in line with Britain’s love of animals.
Equally a lot of manufacturers of dental products also produce medical devices due to similar technical capabilities. I met with a micro engineering plastic injection moulding company who make a dental surgery micro device for root canal treatment. Using similar engineering have added to their portfolio and now also manufacture plugs to drill in to shattered bone (shoulders/arms/legs) to secure them in place; micro catheter tips; micro mist-dye applicators for stents in the heart so surgeons can see where there is a blockage and bio-resorbable staples. This business alone showed how engineering, technology and design has amalgamated and adapted with the demands of the medical world.
Patient care verses Sales standard
Flying out of Dusseldorf airport I sat with the CEO of a medical device business in Switzerland and he was telling me about his 30 years in the medical device profession and his numerous visits to Medica over the years. He initially started in Pharmaceuticals and diversified in to devices 12 years ago. He felt that over the years the quality of patient care has been somewhat lost with the overriding pressure for manufacturers and innovators to create a product which is not centred on a patient’s wellbeing but that of meeting a “sellable standard”. He used this term frequently as he believes the patient centric approach is being overshadowed and the industry is now more focused on the sale value of a product than the health benefits of the patient. As an outsider looking in, I would agree that as the sector grows and the market becomes more condensed and competitive, price will play a large factor, however what was very clear was the tight regulations, trials and enforced processes each device has to pass in order to make it to market. This in itself was a cause of frustration to many inventors, manufacturers and distributors as this level of quality assurance and testing cannot be rushed, however equally that means their ROI is often a long way off. Also, what was evident was how many exhibitors talked compassionately about improving patients levels of comfort and that was how their device was born - be that thinner tubes to pass in to the stomach/heart, less intrusive methods to infuse blood, devices to allow patients to self-prescribe pain relief, portable devices so patients can be treated from home and wearable technology/application devices so the patient can carry on with their lives and use technology to monitor glucose levels etc.
Overall, the whole Medica experience was a whirlwind of fascinating, and at times a frightening realisations at the array of the medical devices which are either in circulation or are in their testing phase. I consider myself very fortunate that my family and I have not had first-hand experience of devices and hospital and doctors’ visits have been infrequent, but should this change I am encouraged that the world of devices is energetically evolving, and innovations are both creative and ultimately still focused around patient welfare. It is with this overriding thought in mind that I am confident Collingwood's medical device practice can continue to support the sector through the identification, assessment and appointment of strong leaders at a board and business critical levels.