COVID-19 & MedTech; How will our industry respond?

From blazing fires that ravaged millions of acres across the country, to the Coronavirus or “COVID-19”, a pandemic that is affecting people and countries at an unprecedented level around the world, it is fair to say that 2020 will be a year many will sooner rather forget.

COVID-19 is an ever-evolving issue, with Governments around the world implementing measures that have significantly altered and changed the way we live our lives and interact with our families, colleagues, neighbours & friends. The outbreak, which has affected more than 500,000 people to date, has left businesses around the world counting costs. Industries from Travel & Tourism to Hospitality & Entertainment have been brought to their knees with huge job losses and in many instances reducing revenue generation to zero. Big shifts in the stock market have left many investors fearing that the continued spread of the virus could destroy economic growth and that government action may not be enough to slow the decline. In many countries; Central Banks have as a result slashed interest rates to encourage spending and make borrowing cheaper in order to mitigate the impact.

Healthcare systems in particular are feeling the strain and in some countries have been simply overwhelmed by the numbers. Doctors and Clinicians are now having to make life and death decisions based on what resources they have available; there are only so many ICU beds & ventilators available and the demand far outweighs the supply. It has been well documented how Healthcare workers on the frontline are running short on critical PPE (Personal Protection Equipment). Without these essential supplies, containing the virus and ensuring the safety of our Nurses and Doctors cannot be guaranteed; we need these individuals now more than ever and it is pleasing and reassuring to hear that production levels of these essential supplies is ramping up considerably.

Despite the doom & gloom, there are some positives to take from COVID-19. Families and communities are more connected, pollution is down, employees can be productive, in some instances even more so, when working from home & we ultimately have a greater appreciation for our fundamental freedoms which we have taken for granted for so many years. A personal highlight for me has been witnessing organisations such as Tesla and Dyson shift away from their core business focus to positively contribute to the fight.

We at OneMD have been keeping a keen eye on how MedTech businesses have been responding to the crisis and it makes us proud to be associated with an industry that is doing everything it can to deliver care to patients who need it most. The fundamental mission of Healthcare companies is to advance patient health, and in times of emergency, this goal stands high above all others. Nobody can know what COVID-19 will ultimately mean for global health, affected societies, or the global economy. But Pharmaceutical and MedTech companies are critical parts of mitigating its impact and coming up with a global solution.

We have spent time speaking with Gavin Fox-Smith, previously Managing Director of Johnson & Johnson ANZ & Chair of the MTAA and now Chair of ANDHealth (Australia’s National Digital Health initiative) and Co-Chair of the A/NZ Leadership Forum Health Technology Group to understand the impact of COVID-19 on the Medical Device industry and put to him the following questions:

1. What can senior business leaders in the medtech space do to ensure that their people are staying focussed, committed and happy during these times?

My first thought is fundamental to our industry – remember why we exist, which is for the patient. In all circumstances once the patient is at the centre its amazing what magic happens. Equally important is our clinical customer, none more so than at this time. Whether it is a surgeon, physician, GP, nurse, infection control or allied health they are relying on our industry to serve and support them at this very challenging time.

Whilst our primary focus is rightly on the patient and customer we clearly need to look after our people (ie employees) and their families. Paramount is their own health (not just Covid-19 but their broader physical and mental health). We need to ensure their working environment is safe and productive (especially those such as manufacturing or warehouse staff who still need to attend a work place). The work life balance has never been more important. We need to ensure constant, consistent and transparent communication – both out and in, people must be encouraged to raise any concerns without fear. In the bigger picture every business will want to keep strong and sustainable so their business is still here in the post Covid-19 world.

Finally our industry has always led from the front in community responsibility, never a better time than now to keep demonstrating our care for the community we are so privileged to live and work in.

2. Many people who work in medtech sit in client facing functions; what advice do you give to those people in order to remain productive? 

We have grown up in a time where our industry has defined client facing as “feet on the ground” or “reps in the OR” or “hands on demos”, which has served our customers and our businesses well. Given the available technology I think it would reasonable to say we have not embraced it to the level we could have. We can now do this at pace and scale. Field based people have always had account/sales/territory plans – I see no reason to change these with the exception of how we connect. It is a critical time for our first line leaders (ie Sales and Business Managers) to be engaging with their respective teams even more regularly. And you can still have fun with many examples of morning coffees or Friday drinks over Zoom or similar technologies!

Even with this our teams will have more time available than normal – what a great opportunity to build skills, learn new things, develop yourself. Education should be a primary productivity tool over the coming weeks and months. Those businesses that are the most ready for a post Covid-19 environment will thrive.

3. How do you see this crisis changing the way Medical device organisations operate/interact with their customers .

I think this is the key question for all industries and all organisations. One thing is certain – the pandemic will change the way everything is done in the future. At the enterprise level Boards and Senior Executives will be critically examining their business continuity plans. Those businesses that have strong cash flow, diverse revenue streams and top talent will not only get through this challenge well but will accelerate post Covid-19.

We have seen the widespread adoption of digital technologies for Healthcare professionals and providors.I think we will see this trend continue to the point where many of our companies will need to re-think their customer engagement and revenue demand activities.

4. In what ways can medical device companies positively contribute to the fight against COVID-19 

Medical device companies are contributing in a multitude of ways across many different fronts. Firstly our industry has come together under the banner of Medical Technology Association of Australia (MTAA), both members and non-members, with direct line to both Federal and State Departments. Focus areas are Ventilators, Testing Kits and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

The major global players (and even now companies like Ford and General Motors) are mobilizing at a scale never seen before. Equally we are seeing our local Australian owned businesses step up, a great example being Med-Con in Shepparton. They even have the Army helping them scale up production of medical masks!

5. Naturally, we know that there is an end point to COVID019. When we reach that end point, how do you feel the industry will respond?

Our great industry has innovated and responded to patient needs for decades, and we are seeing the best of our industry as I write this. I have enormous confidence in our industry and its ability to adapt and respond to all challenges – we will get through this and we will be better and stronger as an industry!

Thank you to Gavin for contributing his thoughts on an incredibly important topic for anyone connected to the medical device sector.

The reality of life post-COVID-19 has not fully sunk in yet, and its consequences for our businesses, organizations, economy, and society will play out over the rest of 2020 and beyond. We encourage everyone to remain positive, optimistic and resilient, good times will return.

Remember the old adage, “Crisis does not build character, it reveals it.”

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