Gary Pruden, Executive Vice President, Worldwide Chairman, Medical Devices, Johnson & Johnson
The promise of surgery is soaring, but so are disparities in access to it. Even as stunning advances in technology and technique make more conditions amenable to surgical treatment, morbidity, and mortality from those conditions is actually growing in the poorest places in the world. The promise of technology in healthcare is that everyone, from an executive at a medical technology company to a rural farmer in a developing country, can have the same access to care. But to realize that promise, we have to recognize it, prepare for it and change in order to seize it.
The urgency of the need is striking. The Lancet’s Global Surgery Commission found that 5 billion people lack access to safe and affordable surgical and anesthetic care, including nine in 10 people in low-and lower-income countries. Another 143 million surgical procedures are needed in poorer countries each year. Only 6 percent of surgical procedures worldwide occur in these parts of the world, and this low volume contributes to high fatality rates. Almost a third of global disease burden is attributable to surgically treatable conditions.
Meanwhile, across the world, in both emerged and emerging markets, challenges and change for our industry abound. The demand for value-based healthcare is growing, and payers are making determinations based on hard assessments of results grounded in real world evidence. Industry and customer consolidations are accelerating globally. Med tech startups are facing a world with more Initial Public Offering exits than series a funding, and sadly, many never begin because of the inherent uncertainty of outcomes. The result of all of this is that real innovation is needed more than ever, in an environment that is struggling to support it.
Driving innovation requires a renewed focus on and investment in innovation from our industry in different ways and forms. From regulators, it requires the clarity of new pathways for approvals of innovation and greater consistency of globally harmonized standards. In the end, making pathways and opportunities less uncertain will help to attract capital and overall investment to support the startups community.
If we can harness the full power of innovation, its promise reaches as far as a connected world. The most promising trends in medical technology are the ones that personalize care to specific patients while extending access to it.
The most promising trends in medical technology are the ones that personalize care to specific patients while extending access to it
The inequities these technologies can overcome range from healthcare infrastructure, to patient management, to enhanced surgical skills.
Most patients are now walking around with mobile phones that wield more connected computing power than desktops packed just a few years ago. These types of smart technology may soon be integrated with implantable, wearable devices that lower the risks and shift the site of care while empowering patients to take control of their health. These devices have the potential to blend physician informatics with enhanced patient monitoring of status and risk factors to provide actionable insights to physicians that could ultimately improve quality of life.
Enhanced robotics powered by digital technology is another example that can both personalize and extend access to care. It can conceivably enable less invasive procedures to be performed in more remote locations where the best surgeons may be unavailable. Current surgical robots are, in a sense, misnomers. They are mere extensions of a surgeon’s eyes and hands—single-point solutions in closed platforms. They do not transfer knowledge or assist the surgeon with assessing treatment options.
The challenge is to transcend the robot and move to what Verb Surgical, (Ethicon’s partnership with Verily Life Sciences), calls “digital surgery.” The idea is to integrate technologies that become a real-time resource to the surgeon with data analytics, advanced instrumentation, robotics, enhanced visualization and connectivity, digital connectivity to patient data, and other assets.
Similarly, industrial 3D printing technology will enable us to pursue and rapidly advance entirely new avenues of innovation to better serve patients and consumers. It can radically change how we conceptualize, design and deliver solutions. Rather than large-scale, one-size-fits-all manufacturing, 3D printing technology components and instruments can be created in new ways, produced with customized designs and materials: a “made for me” model rather than a “made for the masses” approach.
Industrial 3D printing can also be used to improve surgery by creating multi-dimensional models for surgeons to use in simulating complex operations. An anatomical replica of a patient’s anatomy can be obtained almost immediately and in one location. The result is that surgery can be more accurate while procedure and operating room time and associated costs can be reduced.
Solutions like these can make healthcare more affordable and accessible as its quality improves. But their promise will not be automatically realized. They depend on innovation that comes in no small part from startups whose funding hinges on the next regulatory determination. They depend on the availability of investment funding and capital spending.
Most of all, they depend on a continuing creed that the best healthcare should be available to all—from developed nations to emerging markets, from advanced hospitals to on-site care in rural economies. Our industry faces challenges. As long as that continues to drive us, there is no obstacle medtech’s ethic of innovation cannot overcome.
Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) is an American multinational medical devices, pharmaceutical and consumer packaged goods manufacturer founded in 1886.