At various (and many) times in life—personal and professional—we trudge full steam ahead with blinders on. It’s easy to do. We get so wrapped up in the minutiae of day-to-day tasks, projects, planning and execution, that it can be easy to forget about the big picture.
During a recent casual conversation with medical device executives at one of this industry’s many mega trade shows, we were discussing the “health” of various companies and products. One gentleman commented about one manufacturer in particular: “That firm’s priority needs to be to increase shareholder value.” The conversation continued for a few minutes as we all chatted about additional must-dos for the company in the coming year, everything from keeping doctors happy to staying ahead of FDA audits. Then finally someone said: “And, of course, there’s the patient.” A moment of quiet passed while everyone nodded. “Well, that goes without saying,” one of the executives quickly retorted.
Why does that go without saying? I wondered. Clearly, if we were all thinking it, one of us should have said something. It needed to be the first thing said, followed quickly—let’s be practical and realistic after all—by the strategic and financial priorities that help companies, in turn, bring effective, sometimes life-altering technology to patients, the ultimate end users. We all had gotten mired down in myopia.
During a keynote address during the recent annual meeting of the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed), New York Times bestselling business author Jason Jennings described winning formulas for some of the most successful companies in and out of healthcare.
Prior to his presentation at the meeting, he polled a few AdvaMed members and asked what created competitive advantage. “It’s real simple; it’s about the patient, stupid,” Jennings said, quoting the response he got from Mike Mussallem, chairman and CEO of Edwards Lifesciences LLC and newly elected AdvaMed chairman. The audience laughed (myself included), and my thoughts quickly turned to the conversation I’d been part of at the trade show a few weeks before. Reassuringly, the patient perspective was at the forefront of most presentations and conversations during the AdvaMed meeting. Part of the patient-first point of view was the issue of healthcare reform and patient access (a popular topic in an election year). Uwe Reinhardt, PhD, professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University, stressed that medical technology would play a key role in containing healthcare costs. He estimated that at current projections, healthcare expenditures could account for 38% of the US gross domestic product by 2050. Reinhardt explained that an often overlooked threat to the US healthcare system is the “pervasive and growing labor shortage of healthcare workers, which is driving up the per unit cost of healthcare.” He noted that in 1990 the ratio of healthcare workers to elderly patients in the United States was 3.5 to 1 and that figure is expected to be reduced by half by 2030.
He also pointed to the promise of medical innovations such as remote monitoring technologies for congestive heart failure and diabetes, implantable neurostimulators for conditions ranging from migraines to Alzheimer’s Disease, and hip and knee replacements that restore mobility, as examples of “labor-saving technologies” that not only will increase the efficiency and productivity of a shrinking pool of healthcare workers, but help the patients remain active and productive. In addition, he highlighted the potential of information technology to transform the healthcare system the way it has for other industries such as finance and communications.
Reinhardt also discussed the challenge of what he referred to as the “widening income distribution in the US, which makes it ever harder for families in the bottom 30% to 40% of the nation’s income distribution to afford modern American healthcare.” He further stressed that the income disparity argues the need for enactment of comprehensive healthcare reform. As Reinhardt suggested, if nobody is able to afford healthcare, it doesn’t matter how therapeutic the technology may be. There are plenty of opinions about healthcare reform, and the discussion will go well beyond this November’s election. But informed debate is a good and necessary thing. It’s equally good to take stock of varying perspectives, though not always easy. Woodrow Wilson said: “If you want to make enemies, try and change something.” Perhaps, if players in the game keep the big picture—best patient care—in perspective, it should translate into a win for all sides.