Value of innovative medical devices

Milind Shah, Founder/ Partner, StratLead Advisors, gives an overview on how healthcare professionals are increasingly recognising the merits of innovative, safe and effective medical devices for improved patient care

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Milind Shah

Advances in medical technology have helped to extend and improve patients’ lives dramatically over the last few decades. Such innovations for diagnosing, screening, treating and curing serious health conditions include not only fundamentally new medical devices and diagnostics, but also significant improvements over previous-generation technologies. These advances have had a huge positive impact on disease management in India, but more action is needed to expand patient access to these benefits.

Healthcare professionals across the country are increasingly recognising the merits of innovative, safe and effective medical devices and diagnostics for improved patient care. From everyday devices such as thermometers and syringes to life-saving devices like stents, pacemakers, ultrasound machines and surgical robots, medical equipment form the backbone for timely diagnosis and effective treatment. However, application of medical technology is still limited in our country. If tapped optimally, it has the potential to help India manage its huge healthcare burden far more effectively.

Medical technology – Cost driver or cost saver

In a paper published by the Journal of Political Economy in 2006, it was estimated that over the preceding 50 years, medical innovation had been the source of nearly half of all economic growth in the US. Such innovation not only saves lives — it saves money! These savings come in the form of lower treatment costs, shorter hospital stays, reduced complications, and fewer readmissions, which help patients get back to work more quickly. Innovations that treat Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) like cancer, heart disease and diabetes in particular, have a positive impact not only on patients’ lives and the balance sheets of individual families, but also on the nation’s GDP. Unfortunately, such benefits of medtech innovation often go unrecognised.

Hope and opportunity

The medical device sector has been delivering significant answers to fast-evolving healthcare needs of India. India is one of the top twenty markets for medical devices in the world and growing at a fast pace. According to a white paper published by Deloitte in March 2016, the medical device industry in India grew at a rate of 10 per cent from 2008 to 2014, and is expected to reach $8.6 billion by 2020 at an organic growth rate of 15 per cent per annum.

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A case in point is technology that has upped early detection of cancers, accounting for a 30 -80 per cent reduction in mortality. Colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy detect colorectal cancer, and colonoscopy can prevent the ailment through removal of polyps. Similarly, the evolution of coronary stents has significantly reduced the number of patients dying from heart attacks while implantable cardiac defibrillators have increased the chances of surviving a sudden cardiac arrest from five per cent to 98 per cent. Angioplasty, an innovative procedure used to treat heart disease, also generates substantial savings for patients. Meanwhile, millions of diabetes patients in India are able to better manage their disease and avoid expensive complications through the use of advanced glucose monitors and insulin pumps; patients suffering from musculoskeletal disease are able to eliminate their pain, improve their mobility and quality of life with artificial joint replacements; and surgical patients treated with minimally invasive technologies are able to recover faster and get back to work sooner.

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Such examples show how innovative medical technologies enable physicians to deliver better outcomes and help patients lead longer, better and more independent lives. This is a key reason why medical tourism is booming in the country.

Contributing to these solutions and growth is a diverse mix of local and multinational companies. Many multinationals have invested significant resources in improving access to quality healthcare in India through physician training and education, product development and research, and establishment of local manufacturing facilities that also help create good paying jobs. At the same time, Indian entrepreneurs and companies are focusing on delivering quality products at reasonable costs. Partnerships between various types of companies are also facilitating development of optimum solutions for the Indian market.

But more needs to be done

To help realise the benefits of medical technology innovation to patients and the economy, healthcare professionals, industry and the government must work together to increase patient access. This effort will require increased patient awareness, clear and predictable regulations, insurance penetration, medical technology innovation, and fair return on investment. At just over 1.3 per cent of the global medical device market, the industry is quite small in India, but pragmatic government policies will go a long way in promoting healthy growth that improves patients’ lives and the economy. Counterproductive actions, such as the recently proposed plan to cap prices of cardiac stents, act as a disincentive to innovation and should be re-evaluated.

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The draft National Medical Device Policy 2015 announced by the Department of Pharmaceuticals should set the ball rolling to an extent. It aims at increasing penetration of medical devices and boosting the quality, reliability and competitiveness of the industry. As the Deloitte report states: “With an enabling policy framework and ecosystem support, industry estimates indicate a potential to grow at ~28 per cent p.a. to $50 billion by 2025. This growth is expected to be driven by indigenous manufacturing and exports, and sales from local innovation.”

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The medical technology industry is standing at a crossroads now. The clinical and economic value of medical technology has been clearly established. Yet, its penetration in our country is very low. While the country is beginning to win the battle against infectious diseases, NCDs have already become the largest cause of death. Unfortunately, the incidence of NCDs amongst younger, productive people is rapidly growing thus increasing social trauma and impacting the nation’s GDP. Medical technology innovation and increased patient access are the clear solution for healthier patients and a healthier economy in India, allowing better patient outcomes and longer lives, as well as improved economic growth and a more prosperous future.

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