COVID-19 is changing the face of healthcare at an unprecedented pace. We examine the key role MedTech has in tackling the virus, how to tackle some of the issues impacting MedTech, and its effect on the NHS.
The MedTech industry is in the frontline here. It is playing a crucial role in ensuring that the right technologies are available, at scale and speed, for NHS providers and patients to combat the virus.
Diagnostic tests are needed to rapidly identify those that are infected, as well as detect those that aren’t – in order to free-up resource and increase NHS capacity.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks, gowns, gloves, goggles and footwear are essential for preventing the spread of infection and protecting healthcare professionals.
And life-saving care also needs to be available to all COVID-19 patients. Respiratory support equipment is the most obvious need, accompanied by a plethora of equipment necessary for the care of patients with severe symptoms such as infusion pumps, syringe pumps, pump consumables, IV access, ICU equipment, catheters, artificial feeding equipment and hospital beds.
Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 is putting the supply chain for MedTech products under pressure. The impact of this will of course vary by company, based on product portfolio. Some will see the need to mobilise extra manufacturing resources to meet increased demand. Where that demand can’t be met, the government is looking to other manufacturers (and in other industries) for help. The ‘ventilator challenge’ for example, is seeking widespread production of respirators to ensure capacity and capability is met in the NHS critical care setting.
Other MedTech companies may see demand for their products decline, for example, companies that manufacture equipment used solely in elective procedures, which are being postponed due to COVID-19. R&D programs are also affected as many hospitals and researchers are having to deprioritise product evaluations.
Industry should aim to help its NHS customers and their patients through this challenging time, becoming a critical part of mitigating its impact on individuals. MedTech companies will need to think carefully about how and what their sales personnel, medical liaison staff, and others communicate to their NHS customers. Messaging about the strength and capacity of their services, including continuity and speed of supply, product quality, patient outcomes and other reassurances are likely to resonate.
Engaging your NHS customers
But with the current limitation on non-essential personnel in offices, and the understandable restrictions on hospital access, how can MedTech best engage to support their NHS customers?
A relatively simple solution is to replace physical meetings with digital meetings, leveraging the latest technology in video conferencing to maximise engagement. Some companies are questioning whether it’s responsible to be requesting any time from NHS staff during this period. With this in mind, MedTech should also consider other channels for remote customer engagement, moving towards an ‘on-demand’ model of contact.
Helping teams to be ‘response-ready’
MedTech could use this time to build customer access strategies and plans. It’s unlikely that the NHS will revert to business as usual (BAU) so considering the prevailing issues in a post-coronavirus world against your business challenges, provides an opportunity to discover new ways of creating value for your NHS customers.
If the ‘new normal’ includes the limiting of face-to-face gatherings it is likely to result in cancelled or postponed training sessions, conferences and events. Engaging in online learning, not to simply occupy some ‘downtime’ but to build the capabilities you and your colleagues will need to thrive in a post-coronavirus world.
A new NHS landscape?
MedTech companies may also discover that they are working within a new landscape of providers who have integrated at pace. The COVID-19 crisis will be a true test of how far social care, the community and third sector, and independent sector providers are really embedded, as they work together to relieve the burden on hospitals, and use primary, community and care settings to create critical care capacity.
For example, NHS England’s guidance said that when assessing if a patient was ready to go home, doctors were not to ask if the patient is “medically fit” or “back to baseline” but instead if they were “medically optimised”. It acknowledges this will require patients to receive ambulatory heart failure treatment, intravenous antibiotics and oxygen at home or in a community setting. Systems, not hospitals, will have to take on many of MedTech’s patient groups previously based in acute care. This HSJ article has examples of how a system-directed approach is working in practice and how it impacts commissioning for some services.
What’s clear is that MedTech will need to understand its morphing customer base to fully support the effort, and to be as adaptable and agile as the NHS is having to be.
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