Surprising New Themes Emerge at DeviceTalks Minnesota 2019

September 23  

DeviceTalks Minnesota has a reputation for debuting the latest innovations in medical devices as well as bringing top-notch speakers to the dais, so it wasn’t a surprise that both of those features were present again in 2019. However, an unexpected theme emerged from many of the speakers. Whether they were talking about innovations in engineering at Mayo Clinic or the improvements in LVAD technology led by Abbott, many of the speakers came to the same conclusion about what healthcare in general — and the device sector in specifically — needs more of: Empathy. Medical Alley Association Board Chair Sheri Dodd addressed it most directly, saying “this sense of empathy is critical to chronic disease management… I’m a big medtech fan, but when we think about trying to remove the human element, we’re on the wrong track.”

There has traditionally been a layer between device companies and the patients that ultimately benefit from their products, making empathy for users a more abstract need for developers than it is for frontline healthcare workers. But patients are interacting with their devices outside of the traditional clinic setting far more frequently now than they used to, thanks in no small part to the more manageable size of the devices and emerging data that shows patients often recover as well or better in the home as they do in the hospital when discharged appropriately. This means that device makers will increasingly need to be able to communicate with end-users effectively as they adjust to having a new medical device in their life.

Tactile Medical CEO Jerry Mattys spoke forcefully about the need to get patients home faster since it not only produced equivalent-or-better outcomes but brought them at a lower cost. His company has been helping lymphedema patients receive care at home for more than a decade but cautioned the crowd that getting patients home faster wasn’t just a matter of having the right devices and convincing providers, it was also about demonstrating a new kind of value to payers. “The whole reimbursement model needs to change to correctly identify the value Tactile is providing,” he said.

Day two began with a Baxter Chief Science and Technology Officer Sumant Ramachandra telling his audience that dialysis patients, like chronic lymphedema patients, are best served by a healthcare model that lets them stay at home for treatment. His experience spending time in the hospital with a recently ill father made for a powerful foundation as he argued that healthcare’s traditional borders were hampering patient care. “If you’re a patient, do you care if [your treatment] is a medical device or a pharmaceutical? You care about what therapy you get, and you care how people treat you.” His statement helped draw the conference back to empathy: When care is not just patient-focused, but truly patient-centric, departures from normal care patterns become less disruptive and the whole system benefits through improved outcomes and decreased costs. 

One of the most anticipated talks of day two was medtech veteran Bill Betten’s firsthand account of a frightening brain tumor he had removed earlier this year. Bill’s experience as a patient drove home so much of what other speakers had addressed: A lack of transparency in both costs and likely outcomes, how those unknowns affected his outlook on the procedure, and the need for everyone involved in healthcare to take a patient-first mindset. “This is happening at the end of my career,” Betten urged the crowd. “So, part of the mission here is – we all think about the patient, but actually think about it as if it were you”

David Knapp, vice president of R&D at Boston Scientific, closed the conference with both a proud statement of fact and a challenge all in 12 words: “Anyone living in Minnesota knows it: This is ground zero for medtech.” Because if Minnesota is the global epicenter of health innovation and care – and it is – then the changes to mentality and practice urged by Dodd, Mattys, Betten, Ramachandra, and others have to begin here, too. Fortunately, the level of expertise on display from the speakers and the engagement of the audience shows that there is already a strong appetite to change healthcare for the better here, starting with empathy and adopting a patient-centric mentality at every step of the medical device design process, all the way until the patient takes their new device home.

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