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My Medtech Business

Francis White is Business Director of Medtronic in the UK. Based in the USA, with a UK presence going back 35 years, Medtronic is a leading global supplier of medical devices to treat heart disease and other conditions.

In your role as Business Director for Medtronic in the UK, what are your main goals? What do you hope to have achieved in five years’ time?

The main goal is to increase patient access to the therapies that we make. The UK has one of the lowest rates of pacemaker implant in Europe. Close to 90% of those who could benefit from a life-saving implantible cardioverter defibrillator don’t receive one, and so die in the community. So there’s lot of work to be done in reaching the patients, even though a lot of these technologies have been around for some time.

The other goal is to establish the true value of medtech, and what we do in particular, based on the quality outcomes and not just the short-term cost of acquisition. In a time of crisis for the NHS, what we’re seeing is an attempt to slash prices rather than take into account long-term costs. We’re trying to counter that with discussion of what it will cost to treat the patient over their lifetime, rather than just what the product costs in the first place.

Those are the two things that I’m working on, and we have quite a long way to go. In five years, if we can double the number of patients who receive the devices they need, then I think we’ll have done very well.

You’re a keen advocate of marketing in the medical devices industry. Do you feel marketing is under-used? If so, how can it be made more effective?

Currently, most of the effort of medical device companies is through sales representatives and technical staff direct to the clinical team. That’s important to bring the value direct to the person who uses it and help them get a better outcome. But increasingly we’ve seen many more stakeholders involved in the decision process to access a medical technology, and these people need to be brought up to speed with the parameters of that decision.

For example, the patient should now be involved – as Andrew Lansley said, ‘No decision about me, without me’ – but I don’t think many patients really have any concept of a medical device that could be in their body for 10 or 20 years, and have no awareness of the different products. They probably take more care to research something for their car than they do to research something for their own body. I think marketing goes some of the way to close that awareness gap.

Certainly, financial stakeholders such as purchasers will often make a decision based on very partial information, and I think marketing can help give them the facts they need to make a better decision. Also, the emotional impact of the therapy – what it means to the patient, to their families and to their lifestyle – needs to be communicated to these different stakeholders, and marketing can definitely do that. So there’s a long way to go.

The jury’s out on what media are most effective for medical device marketing. In all areas of business, the impact of traditional television and newspaper advertising is dwindling, so medtech marketing faces the same challenge as everyone else – perhaps more so because we haven’t really built much in the way of branding for the public or the other stakeholders I’ve mentioned. The media channels we use will be somewhat experimental for the next few years, until we can really get a grip on what’s working. All I can say for sure is that we need to try.

Which aspects of the medtech industry are likely to flourish in the future?

The technologies that demonstrate a quality outcome for the patient and reduce overall costs will be the ones that prosper, I hope. There’s so much noise from the Government about the QIPP agenda and quality outcomes that if we can measure that effectively, the technologies that dovetail with that philosophy should prosper. My concern with the trends we’re seeing at the moment is that what will prosper is the cheapest thing that does the job in a half-baked way because people are just looking at the cost of acquisition.

Sales and marketing have become more complex, because more stakeholders are involved. Having a squeeze on cost and a more complex environment to work means there are two opposing forces: the cost of doing business is going up, but the money we have to play with is coming down. Marketing will have to innovate around that dilemma, and some of the new media channels may be part of the answer to that.

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