By Randy Clark
Medical technology companies have balanced many concerns since the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
We’ve been concerned about protecting the safety of our employees, ensuring the security of our supply chains, and managing our inventories. With these concerns still top of mind, we’re now also challenged to scale our businesses back to meet the increasing demands as hospitals and other health care facilities resume elective procedures. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey shows that at least a third of Americans expect to receive delayed care within the next few months.
One of the greatest challenges we face in the return to elective medical procedures is providing the needed support around our products to physicians, nurses, technicians, and patients, while also ensuring the safety of all involved. The “Return to Procedures” guidance presented by the AHA, AORN, and AdvaMed, and signed onto by 26 major health care organizations, provides a useful roadmap for all the necessary safety precautions companies and their representatives need to take. For example, health care facilities are advised in the guidance to conserve their personal protective equipment (PPE) for their health care staff. Now we in the medtech industry — supporters of medical practitioners — must procure PPE for all our essential employees going back into healthcare facilities to ensure they are safe in their supporting roles. In doing so we are now asking ourselves, are we buying scarce PPE that is needed for health care providers?
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Maybe the more appropriate question is: how can we ensure that PPE is used by those administering treatment? What if medical technology representatives could forego PPE, help ensure health care provider and patient safety, and offer the same level of support virtually? Primary guidance suggests just such a solution. The “Return to Procedures” advises against medical device representatives returning to health care facilities in person. According to the guidance, “Medical device representatives should work with facilities and providers to deliver services, information, and support remotely whenever possible.” Certainly, representatives need to be available onsite to support emergent and urgent procedures; however, representatives do not need to be physically present to support elective procedures.
If medical technology representatives cannot be available in person, what is the alternative? We can look to a signal from the German government to glimpse what the future holds. They have announced an investment plan to revive the economy in the aftermath of COVID-19, which includes significant funding for digital health care capabilities. Necessity is pushing similar investments in the U.S. with Congress now considering bipartisan legislation that would expand the use of telehealth beyond the pandemic. To start, I think we need to implement secure virtual presence solutions and develop a baseline comfort level for all involved in adopting such digital solutions. Technology is currently available to securely invite medical technology representatives into procedure rooms virtually, in compliance with privacy standards. These vendor-neutral technologies provide context-rich and immersive experiences that will not compromise patient care. It’s time to move forward.
About the author: Randy Clark is the president of the Medical Systems Group at Olympus Corporation of the Americas.