Wireless sensors are the missing link in mobile health applications

Scanadu Scout sensorWireless sensors are an evolving missing link and a gigantic opportunity in mobile health application development and commercialization.

Markets for mobile health are developing rapidly. Personal fitness, quantified self, chronic disease monitoring, elder health monitoring, infant monitoring, acute symptom diagnosis, physical therapy, and telemedicine are a few of the segments in mobile health.

We have fast networks that cover almost all of our population in the U. S. and most developed countries. Smartphones are powerful mobile computers with vast amounts of onboard computing power and storage. If the smartphone’s capabilities are insufficient, developers can access cloud-based storage, databases, and distributed computing that can scale to address any size problem.

Because all of this technology has been developed for mass consumer markets (and because of Moore’s law), it is inexpensive – orders of magnitude less costly than a few years ago.

So we have cheap, powerful, ubiquitous computing and connectivity mostly being used for social connectivity and YouTube video watching. This powerful computer network is also increasingly being used to improve healthcare diagnosis and delivery.

Still being developed are wireless sensors to take advantage of all of that computing power. There are a number of companies pursuing commercialization of sensors and apps to enable all sorts of mobile health capabilities and functions.

Some of the sensor technologies are wearable in clothing or on the skin, some are implantable, and others are ingestible. All use low power wireless communications technology such as Bluetooth Low Energy for continuous or periodic monitoring. The first generation of sensors, like Holter monitors, recorded data for a time period and were sent to a lab for processing so a report could be generated for a physician. The new generation of sensors records continuously and sends the data in real time where a physician or even the patient can access data that has been processed by a smart application.

Physicians are beginning to be able to monitor their patients with chronic diseases in real time. Individuals active in the “quantified self” movement have more personal data than ever with which to monitor and analyze themselves. Physicians can prescribe personal diagnostics to collect data in order to make a more accurate diagnosis.

For example, Given Imaging of Israel has developed a capsule that has video recording and radio transmission capabilities. The capsule is swallowed by the patient. It then records and transmits its journey through the patient’s digestive tract. The video is reviewed by the physician to determine a preliminary diagnosis and the need for more invasive interventions like surgery.

For the Star Trek fan, Scanadu is developing a crude “tricorder”  – a disk of sensors that is placed on the forehead to measure temperature, heart and respiration rate, blood pressure, and more. The Scanadu Scout is intended for consumers, not physicians.

According to Medical Device and Diagnostics Industry, Pathfinder Software, a mobile and wireless application developer, has created a clever infographic showing various sensors and the body functions they are intended to monitor.

The sensors shown on the infographic are a mere subset of what’s currently available and in development. For example, a startup in my home city of Redmond, Washington, Heapsylon has developed sensors for “smart socks” that can measure a variety of parameters related to running gait to improve athletic performance and prevent injury.

Takeaways: There are opportunities for novel sensors to monitor and measure all sorts of body functions and parameters. There are opportunities to develop applications that gather, process and interpret sensor data for consumers and for healthcare professionals. There are opportunities to analyze aggregated sensor data to assess population health and trends. Finally, there are opportunities to develop and deploy solutions that bring low cost healthcare to underserved populations.

Read more: How Innovations Using Sensors Can Disrupt Healthcare (infographic) | MDDI Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry News Products and Suppliers.

Mobile Health Innovations – Home Monitoring of the Elderly

What might have been science fiction a few years ago is science fact today – and one on the verge of market introduction. The Fraunhofer Institute in Germany has developed miniature sensors that continuously monitor the user’s health, communicate over a secure Bluetooth protocol to a mobile device such as a smartphone, and seamlessly transmit data to a cloud-based server.

Mobile health innovations such as this have the potential to save doctor visits, money, and lives.

The sensors can measure and monitor variables such as blood glucose, lactate, and cholesterol levels, biomarkers that may indicate presence of disease processes, and can also measure heart rate and blood oxygen level. The utility of transmitting all of the data to a cloud server is that a remote physician or family member can monitor the patient from a great distance in virtually real-time and also see trends as they develop.

Additionally, smart software could integrate the sensor data and provide diagnostic alarms for conditions like heart attack or insulin insufficiency. For people living alone and with loved ones thousands of miles away, sensors like these could literally be lifesavers.

These developments have the potential to keep elderly people independent longer and to improve the health of people working in remote locations for extended periods of time. Eventually, I expect scaled-down versions of these sensors to make their way into consumer electronics. Samsung is already marketing its S-Health suite as part of the unique software on its flagship Galaxy S4 smartphone.

I’m sure these mobile sensors will get more sophisticated over time. I also expect that clinical researchers will develop new and interesting ways to use the data for monitoring and diagnosis. From the article:

Fraunhofer FIT demonstrates the first system that integrates three different sensors in one platform. A nano potentiostat measures biochemical information in a patient’s assay, e.g. glucose, lactate or cholesterol levels. A fluorescence sensor is used to detect color-marked biomarkers. A SpO2 sensor monitors heart rate and arterial oxygen saturation. A smartphone app processes the data from the three sensors and transfers them to a server. For secure data communication, a Bluetooth connection with a specifically developed protocol is used.

Takeaways: This is a glimpse into the future of telemedicine. Fraunhofer does not commercialize or market products. They license their technologies to medical device companies and related entities. I would expect Fraunhofer to already be in licensing discussions for these technologies but you should contact Fraunhofer if you and your company are in the mobile health segment.

Read more: FIT press release, 12.9.2013 – Fraunhofer FIT.

Disruptive Innovation Opportunities Created By Obamacare

Rather than debate endlessly about whether the Affordable Care Act is good or bad, staff at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation has analyzed Obamacare for entrepreneurial opportunities created by disruptive innovations in the law.

Clayton Christensen is a Harvard Business School Professor and author of The Innovator’s Dilemma (and a few more books about innovation since that business best-seller).

According to the authors, these new provisions of Obamacare are disruptive innovations:

  • Individual Mandate – adds tens of millions of new individuals to the primary care healthcare system.
  • Employer Mandate – will drive demand for new, less costly models of health insurance.
  • Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) – provides incentives to providers to keep patients healthy rather than just paying for treatment of illnesses.
  • Wellness Programs – requires health plans to offer new preventive and self-directed care options.
  • CMS Innovation Center – an entity created outside of Medicare and Medicaid with responsibility for developing novel payment and healthcare delivery models.

 The ACA is not perfect by any means. It is also not perfect in the estimation of the Christensen Institute. Here are a few provisions of the Affordable Care Act that are likely to inhibit disruptive innovation:

  • Essential Health Benefits – mandated levels of coverage that may exceed user needs and will make it difficult to introduce low-end disruptive plans.
  • Insurance Exchanges – online marketplaces that will enable comparison shopping, but only among qualified plans, excluding some new and potentially innovative options.
  • Cost-Sharing – government subsidies will drive consumers into Silver-level plans, limiting demand once again for Bronze-level or even lower (and less costly) plans.
  • Medical Loss Ratio – requiring insurers to justify all rate increases and to spend a minimum of 80% of premiums on healthcare creates barriers to entry for new and disruptive market entrants with low or no subscriber populations.
  • Medicaid Expansion – enrolling patients with minimal or zero previous healthcare coverage into Bronze or even Silver-level plans eliminates a market that could be served by disruptive new entrants with innovative healthcare models. Instead, these patients will be driven to traditional insurers.

As noted by many people, including President Obama, the ACA does not have the ability to transform healthcare on its own. Rather, it is intended to provide incentives and opportunities for innovation in order to make healthcare more efficient, more affordable, and more accessible. In the words of the President, “We want to bend the cost curve.” The opportunities to help in and profit from the bending are present for existing players and for new market entrants.

In the framework established by Prof. Christensen, it is the new entrant that is usually disruptive because the established competitors have little incentive to innovate or to change their business models. It is also impossible for the new entrants to gain market share using the existing business models so they are forced to develop and deploy disruptive innovations.

I don’t expect the full effects of Obamacare to be evident for years, although we should see small improvements (and to be sure, some startup problems) almost immediately. There will no doubt be modifications and delays to the regulations and to implementation. It is to be hoped that some of those changes will be favorable to more, rather than less, disruptive innovation.

Takeaways: With change comes opportunity. The ACA may not be hugely popular (especially among medical device companies paying the 2.3% excise tax). Obamacare is, however, somewhat disruptive and creates new opportunities for healthcare companies.

Read more: Seize the ACA:The Innovator’s Guide to the Affordable Care Act | Christensen Institute.

Fundraising advice for medical device startups – 7 tips for angel funding, 3 more for VC funding

Not that this advice is any guarantee of success in fundraising but it’s fun to read what an angel investor and a VC fund manager have to say about how startups approach them, position themselves, and make their pitches.

Both articles are from MedCity News and were written at AdvaMed 2013. The angel investor article is a brief interview with Allan May, the founder and chairman of Life Science Angels who spoke at the Angel Investment Forum. The VC advice comes from Paul Grand, managing director at Research Corporation Technologies Ventures, a life sciences firm focused primarily on medical devices.

For startups fundraising from angel investors,

  • Your intellectual property (IP) may be the most important indicator of valuation and whether you will be successful in your funding quest. Investors need to plan an exit before they invest. Because the most likely exit is via acquisition by a larger medical device company, and medical device companies hoard patents like misers, it’s in everyone’s interest to have the strongest possible IP portfolio.
  • Unless you have a successful startup track record, a stellar team, and potential for a very large exit in 3-5 years, avoid VCs and focus on angel investors. They are willing to invest in smaller, less perfect deals than VCs.
  • Whether you want it or not and whether you like it or not, expect your investors to take a personal interest in your startup and the way you run it. That means lots of phone and face time giving updates and answering questions…and listening to advice.
  • Because angel investor consolidation has become the norm in raising Series A and beyond, investors will know each other. They won’t invest with others they don’t like, trust, or respect. Same holds for your board members – choose them carefully as they are a direct reflection on you.
  • Mr. May also said “This isn’t about picking technologies, it’s about picking people.” My experience suggests that for most early stage entrepreneurs, your technology qualifies you for consideration while your reputation, track record, and interpersonal skills can usually disqualify you.
  • As for how much money you should raise, “The amount of money you should raise is the smallest amount of money that can have the biggest impact on your valuation in the shortest period of time.” That’s a cute way of saying it’s easier to raise the next round at an increased valuation…because you executed your plan and achieved your goals.
  • This last bit of advice is my favorite and probably the most practical in the interview:  Get someone who knows the angel investor to take the business plan to them. . . “Getting into the pile [of business plans] is not a success.”

From the VC fundraising perspective,

  • Be sure to research the VC firm and the partner before the pitch and adjust appropriately. Every VC is different. Do your homework online and through your network. If you are at the level of pitching to VCs, there should be no surprises.
  • Make sure your startup team has the right experience and is correctly sized. These days, you can run a virtual or lean company a long way toward commercialization without expensive full-time executives. There are plenty of freelancers, contractors, and consultants ready and eager to help…”at the beginning, you just need the founder and the engineers…”
  • If all you have is an idea and technical/clinical skill you should wait a bit before approaching VCs. You are unlikely to get a signed nondisclosure agreement, much less early stage financing from VCs if you make your pitch too early. There are incubators and seed investors who can help you become ready for VC investment. As discussed above, consider angel investment as an alternative to VC funding.

Takeaways: Medical device fundraising is hard but there are steps you can take to improve your chances of success. Make sure you know the expectations and criteria of the people and firms to whom you are pitching. Make sure your startup is a good fit with your prospective investors. Just like Goldilocks and the three bears, you must position the opportunity you’re presenting as not too small, not too big…not too early, not too late. 

Read more:

Need angel funding for your early-stage healthcare startup? 7 smart tips from investor Allan May – MedCity News.

Three big mistakes medical device companies make when pitching VCs – MedCity News.

How to Get Payors to Pay For Your Medical Device | MDDI Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry News

You and your medical device development team have created an exciting new widget. You’re gearing up for a costly product launch. How do you make sure health insurers will reimburse hospitals for purchasing your device?

It’s a very important question because hospitals will not purchase your device unless they are confident that they will receive reimbursement from the payor (insurance company).

If your widget is the same as existing products except it’s cheaper, congratulations. You’ve developed what could be considered a commodity product. You can take advantage of existing reimbursement codes (CPT and DRG) and explain the codes to the physicians and decision-makers at the hospital. You can sell your device on the basis that it saves money.

If you have created a really new widget that is unlike other devices, congratulations again. You’ve developed a differentiated product. Your reimbursement effort is just beginning.

If you haven’t done so yet, now would be a good time to engage with a reimbursement consultant. Perhaps your new widget can fit within existing reimbursement codes. If not, the path will be long and involved to get a new code – a topic worthy of its own post, perhaps even a chapter in a book.

In a discussion at AdvaMed 2013, Alan Muney, chief medical officer at Cigna, said Cigna asks three questions when considering coverage for a new device:

1. Has the new technology been proven by studies in peer-reviewed journals?
2. Has the new technology produced better outcomes than current technologies?
3. Does the new technology produce the same outcomes as current technologies but at a lower cost?

These seem like reasonable questions. Although Dr. Muney did not explicitly say so, I’m assuming that you need only answer “yes” to one of these questions in order to be considered for coverage for your device. The questions all have implications, however.

First, to have a study published in a peer-reviewed journal generally means you must conduct a randomized clinical study with enough statistical “power” to make a definitive conclusion. In this context, “proven” means that the new technology has equivalent or superior clinical efficacy to the existing “gold standard” technology. And you already know that clinical studies are expensive and take a long time to conduct.

Second, “outcomes” are more focused on patient health than on a comparison with other technologies. You will need to conduct a clinical study, but with different endpoints measuring different things. The study may last longer and involve more patients, all of which will cost more money and involve more risk to you, your company, and your investors.

The third question adds costs to the equation, not just the procurement costs of your device but the Big Picture costs: does your technology reduce or increase overall costs to the healthcare system? At this point, you may need to consult with a healthcare economist to determine what to measure and how to measure it. And proving cost claims usually involves conducting a big, expensive clinical study. Of course, if you prove better outcomes at reduced cost to the healthcare system, congratulations again. Your product should be adopted rapidly and your focus will shift to keeping up with demand.

Takeaways: Obtaining medical device reimbursement is complicated and risky. It increases costs and time to market for many medical devices. You can’t go to market without knowing how (or if) your device will be reimbursed by insurers. During your business planning process, you should have an idea as to which of the three questions raised by the Cigna CMO you can positively answer for your device. That response should also help inform the size, cost, and duration of the clinical study you will need to conduct. And that will be an important component of the capital you need to raise for commercialization,

Read more: Cigna CMO Explains How to Get Payors to Pony Up For Your Device | MDDI Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry News Products and Suppliers.

FDA finally publishes final guidance for mobile medical apps | mobihealthnews

This has to be welcome news to any company competing in the mobile health market segment. Although the guidance is not binding in typical FDA fashion, it does remove some uncertainty about what the FDA considers mobile software that should fall under Class II (510k) device regulations.

Apparently, lobbying elected officials has some benefit. The story reports that the FDA promised to issue the guidance “in the current fiscal year” in congressional hearings last summer. We are in the last week of the fiscal year and true to the FDA’s word, the guidance is finally issued, two years after the draft guidance was issued.

As one might expect in a “land grab” environment, the absence of regulatory guidance has not been a barrier to market for a number of companies. There have been 100 510(k) marketing clearances issued for mobile medical applications in the past ten years, 40 of which occurred since the draft guidance was issued.

Some companies might have bigger concerns in that they are actively marketing apps that fall under the regulated category but have not obtained 510(k) clearance. Two acne treatment apps were removed from the Apple and Android app stores by the FTC recently.

The guidance treats mobile apps in four broad categories:

  1. Class II apps:

a. Apps that “are intended to be used as an accessory to a regulated medical device – for example, an application that allows a health care professional to make a specific diagnosis by viewing a medical image from a picture archiving and communication system (PACS) on a smartphone or a mobile tablet.”

b. Apps that “transform a mobile platform into a regulated medical device – for example, an application that turns a smartphone into an electrocardiography (ECG) machine to detect abnormal heart rhythms or determine if a patient is experiencing a heart attack.”

2.  Mobile Apps for which FDA intends to exercise “enforcement discretion” (meaning that FDA does not intend to enforce requirements under the FD&C Act).

From the Guidance:

FDA intends to exercise enforcement discretion for mobile apps that:

• Help patients (i.e., users) self-manage their disease or conditions without providing specific treatment or treatment suggestions
• Provide patients with simple tools to organize and track their health information
• Provide easy access to information related to patients’ health conditions or treatments
• Help patients document, show, or communicate potential medical conditions to health care providers
• Automate simple tasks for health care providers
• Enable patients or providers to interact with Personal Health Record (PHR) or Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems.

3.  Apps that are not medical devices and thus are unregulated: Apps that provide a means of monitoring and reporting health parameters and activities but that make no claimed benefit. Examples:

a. Mobile apps that are intended to provide access to electronic “copies” (e.g., e-books, audio books) of medical textbooks or other reference materials with generic text search capabilities. These are not devices because these apps are intended to be used as reference materials and are not intended for use in the diagnosis of disease or other conditions, or in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease by facilitating a health professional’s assessment of a specific patient, replacing the judgment of clinical personnel, or performing any clinical assessment.

b. Mobile apps that are intended for health care providers to use as educational tools for medical training or to reinforce training previously received. These may have more functionality than providing an electronic copy of text (e.g., videos, interactive diagrams), but are not devices because they are intended generally for user education and are not intended for use in the diagnosis of disease or other conditions, or in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease by facilitating a health professional’s assessment of a specific patient, replacing the judgment of clinical personnel, or performing any clinical assessment.

c. Mobile apps that are intended for general patient education and facilitate patient access to commonly used reference information. These apps can be patient-specific (i.e., filters information to patient-specific characteristics), but are intended for increased patient awareness, education, and empowerment, and ultimately support patient-centered health care. These are not devices because they are intended generally for patient education, and are not intended for use in the diagnosis of disease or other conditions, or in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease by aiding clinical decision-making (i.e., to facilitate a health professional’s assessment of a specific patient, replace the judgment of a health professional, or perform any clinical assessment).

d. Mobile apps that automate general office operations in a health care setting and are not intended for use in the diagnosis of disease or other conditions, or in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease.

e. Mobile apps that are generic aids or general purpose products. These apps are not considered devices because they are not intended for use in the diagnosis of disease or other conditions, or in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease.

Takeaways: While the FDA appears to move at a glacial pace in many instances, it eventually responds to market activity. Mobile health is a growing segment and should grow even faster in the coming years.

The trick to escaping regulation under the “enforcement discretion” provision is to avoid making diagnoses or recommendations for treatment. If your app/device interfaces with a class II device or provides diagnostic or therapeutic information or suggestions, you are going to need a 510(k).

 Read more:

FDA finally publishes final guidance for mobile medical apps | mobihealthnews.

Get the FDA Guidance here:

 http://www.fda.gov/downloads/MedicalDevices/DeviceRegulationandGuidance/GuidanceDocuments/UCM263366.pdf

Startups beware. A potential “death sentence” awaits the uninformed.

A fine example of unintended consequences, the JOBS act (Jumpstart Our Business Startups) was supposed to make it easier for startup companies to raise capital and to talk about their financing needs without getting into hot water with the SEC. The law was passed with bipartisan support, and was signed into law by President Obama on April 5, 2012.

As this GeekWire article points out, the new law has made it somewhat easier for startups to conduct IPOs. Unfortunately, that’s the last thing a startup does before it gets transformed into a public company.

The provisions of the JOBS act can actually jeopardize the fundraising activities of a startup during the critically important early stage, before significant capital has been raised and probably before the companies can afford expensive attorneys to advise them.

The main issue with the JOBS act from a startup perspective is that it has complicated rather than simplified the rules around “general solicitation,” the prohibition against publicly offering equity in the company in exchange for investment. The prohibition applies to participation in pitch events, very common forums where startup CEOs present their pitches to a crowd containing a mixture of people, including (it is hoped) a few angel investors.

At least one Internet-based angel investor “crowdsourcing” site, Poliwogg, is counting on the new law to attract novice angel investors to its online marketplace for healthcare company investment opportunities. It remains to be seen if the details of the regulations have a chilling effect on what could be an important resource for early stage startups and for prospective angel investors.

Dan Rosen, a prominent Seattle angel investor who was interviewed for the GeekWire article, pointed out that the “death sentence” can occur if a startup makes two mistakes regarding general solicitation. The penalty from the SEC is a one year prohibition against fundraising. That would sink most startups.

What’s next? A number of organizations are lobbying for changes to the law or at least a more lenient interpretation by the SEC. Given the polarized climate in Washington, D.C., it may take some time for this issue to be resolved.

Takeaways: Startup CEOs should educate themselves about the provisions of the JOBS act as it applies to them. As the saying goes, ignorance of the law is no excuse. I’ve been reading the blog of a Seattle attorney who has a special interest in this matter, William Carleton. You can reach his blog here: http://www.wac6.com/ It’s also wise to engage a corporate attorney who is experienced in startups and startup financing law. Yes it’s expensive but it may be the best insurance you can buy for your startup.

Read more: The messy side of the JOBS act, and the potential ‘death sentence’ for startups – GeekWire.

Powerful Free 3D CAD Software: DesignSpark Mechanical

I’ve bought a few things from Allied Electronics and, of course, got on their email list. It’s usually an interesting email but not very relevant to me. Today, however, I received an email from Allied about DesignSpark Mechanical. DesignSpark Mechanical is a fully featured 3D design and CAD software application for Windows PCs and it’s 100% free.

Model and software from DesignSpark Mechanical websiteYou do need to register and provide contact information but after that, you get a rather large download – 500+ MB for the 64 bit version – and the program runs with all features and no restrictions – WOW!

I’ve downloaded and used Google’s Sketchup software. The free version is very limited in features and they charge $590 for their fully featured Pro version.

From the DesignSpark Mechanical website:

DesignSpark Mechanical is packed with time-saving features to help you design more easily, quickly and creatively than ever before.

  • Produce highly detailed dimensioned worksheets
  • Remove bottlenecks by making amendments and additions to your design in seconds, rather than waiting for the CAD department to rework in history-based CAD tools
  • Combine your creation with off-the-shelf components from RS Components and the Allied Electronics 3D library
  • Create geometry easily with powerful and intuitive gesture-based modelling, no need to be a CAD expert
  • And best of all, it’s completely free! This is not a cut down version of an expensive product or software with a time-limited license.

The software is extremely easy to use, almost intuitive. There are lots of hints and tips included with the various commands and options. The web page for the software contains a number of tutorials, both text and video, for beginners who want to master the software.

One of the most powerful features is the ability to import components from both RS Components and  Allied Electronics. These are dimensionally accurate. The program automatically generates a bill of materials and even estimates the cost of the project.

Another very cool feature is the ability to save directly to a 3D printer format, in an STL file. You could make a design, send the STL file to your favorite 3D printer shop and have a physical prototype the next day!

I’m sure the software is not as powerful as commercial CAD packages. For example, rendering 3D models is not offered. But it looks like it can do the job of creating 3D designs…and it’s free.

Takeaways: 3D CAD software once cost tens of thousands of dollars, then thousands of dollars, then hundreds of dollars, and now it’s free. Not only free, but designed so well that anyone with a slight bit of mechanical ability can learn it and use it. The companies involved are clever to include their 3D libraries of components. It’s a good bet that if you design with them, you will specify them and buy their components. Not a bad competitive advantage for companies in a commodity business like electronic components.

For resource-poor medical device startups, this free software is a huge benefit. The ability to create accurate and convincing prototypes using 3D printing has never been easier or faster. Now you can add 3D design to those fast, inexpensive capabilities. With DesignSpark Mechanical, anyone can do rapid prototyping very inexpensively and produce high quality designs and models.

Read more/Download the software: DesignSpark Mechanical » DesignSpark.

Experts apparently agree: Fitness wearables are now a fashion statement | mobihealthnews

I was walking through the South Lake Union area of Seattle this morning and was struck by how many people had their trusty smartphone in their hands and were reading or interacting with it as they were walking. That was not the case as recently as ten years ago, perhaps even more recently.

So smartphones have become fashion accessories as well as constant companions . You can quickly tell the iPhone devotees from the Android “big screen” fans from the Windows Phone diehards who keep insisting that their phones’ technical specs are better. And it’s almost too easy to get into an argument about which company makes the “best” mobile operating system or phone.

Nike FuelBand

Here’s one of the Next Big Things in consumer technology: fitness wearables as fashion statement. The devices themselves are distinctive in appearance and they are fairly expensive. They monitor activity and exercise levels and provide useful information to the user.

For example, a device may count your footsteps (remember, 10,000 steps a day is The Goal!), measure the distance you run or bike, monitor your sleep patterns, keep track of the number of calories you ingest and expend, and generally automate and simplify tasks that were difficult if not impossible to perform before we all had these amazing devices at our fingertips every waking hour of our day.

Every device is different in its features and functions. The manufacturers take great care in developing the look and feel of the devices since each device is a walking advertisement for the product.

I have a hunch, however, that the people who least need fitness monitoring devices are the ones who use them the most. Of course, no one really needs these devices. But trendy people like to show off their trendy toys, like the Nike Fuelband, FitBit Flex, and Jawbone Up.

One development I’m waiting for is to see if ordinary people, overweight couch potatoes and the like, start wearing and using the same devices. Perhaps they will start by emulating their favorite celebrity and then discover the utility in these devices. Perhaps people will use the devices to monitor their health and improve their fitness.

As the devices get more sophisticated and adopted by more people, I hope the manufacturers will include more ways for people to monitor and improve their health. For example, I read an article In a recent edition of Runner’s World about sitting and why it’s one of the biggest health hazards most people do voluntarily. Not even elite runners are immune from the ill effects of being a couch potato when they are not running. Just think of how beneficial a sitting monitor app would be to our increasingly sedentary population!

I expect the next generation of fitness wearables to include Smart Watches that will have a limited ability to run apps and receive input from body sensors. When you see A-list celebrities sporting those and other devices on TV shows and movies, you’ll know the next big fad is being born.

Takeaways: Popular culture is infatuated with mobile technology. Mobile device adoption is well into the 90% range in a number of demographic segments. Fitness wearables could experience the same sort of growth and adoption, especially if led by celebrities. Apps and sensors for these devices could be good businesses in which to invest. Another huge benefit could be a positive effect on public health.

Read more: Experts apparently agree: Fitness wearables are now a fashion statement | mobihealthnews.

Give Us Our Damn Lab Results!! (etc.) | The Health Care Blog

Patients are empowering themselves. We are overwhelmingly using Internet sites like WebMD and social media to research and discuss symptoms, diseases, and treatments. We are purchasing and using digital health devices and software by the millions.

Now patients are starting to demand direct delivery of lab test results instead of waiting for that call from the doctor’s office that always seems to be delayed or worse, never made.

A little-known proposed regulation issued in 2011 by the Department of Health and Human Services would allow lab test providers to send test results directly to patients. While a final regulation has not been issued, perhaps due to the current political climate in Washington, the regulation is being welcomed by patient advocates and viewed with skepticism by some physicians.

As the article states,

Increasing the ability of patients to have direct access to all their medical information allows patients to more effectively manage their own health care and organize electronic copies of their own data – a major benefit of the health care system’s ongoing transition to digital records…Most broadly, this expanded access gives patients the ability to be as engaged as they choose in their own health and care.

Some unenlightened physicians are lamenting the perceived loss of control and cite the risks involved when patients have uninformed access to clinical data. Other doctors welcome the opportunity to stay in the loop while patients take more responsibility for their own healthcare and data.

Again, from the article:

… A 2009 study published in the Archive of Internal Medicine indicated that providers failed to notify patients (or document notification) of abnormal test results more than 7 percent of the time. The National Coordinator for Health IT recently put the figure at 20 percent.  This failure rate is dangerous, as it could lead to more medical errors and missed opportunities for valuable early treatment.

How can sending lab test results directly to patients be a bad thing if the doctor still receives a copy of the results and continues the practices of alerting patients to abnormal results while offering to interpret the data?

In another empowering development, some patients are now able to skip the dreaded visit image from geekwire.comto the primary care physician, the one where they wait, wait, and wait some more while being exposed to who knows what communicable diseases in the practice’s waiting room. People in the south Puget Sound region of Washington in the Franciscan Health System service area have the ability to have a virtual visit with a physician 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for a reasonable $35 fee (not paid by insurance). The consultation may result in a referral to a physical facility or prescribing of medications. How convenient!

From the article:

“In some cases, patients just want to know if they need to go to the emergency room,” said Dr. Ben Green of Franciscan Virtual Urgent Care. “In fact, most of the time our providers are able to keep them out of the emergency room and patients are quite happy about that.”

The virtual visit with a real doctor is conducted via Skype video teleconferencing or by plain old-fashioned telephone.

The telemedicine service is actually offered by Carena, a Seattle-based company, in partnership with Franciscan. Carena started offering the service in 2010 to private companies and is now expanding to healthcare systems.

Takeaways: Empowered patients and consumers represent an enormous opportunity for medical device and digital health companies. The pharmaceutical industry proved the viability and profitability of direct-to-consumer marketing in the 1990s.

As more patients are comfortable managing their own electronic health records and in keeping their records “in the cloud,” there will be increasing demand for apps, software, and web services to facilitate and secure those transactions and records. The market niche of people who self-monitor their health, fitness, and vital signs with digital health devices and apps will steadily increase as the devices and software get more capable and easier to use.

Read more:

Give Us Our Damn Lab Results!! | The Health Care Blog.

Feeling sick? Washington health system now offers virtual doctor appointments for $35 – GeekWire.

How did Israel become a hotbed for medical devices? | FierceMedicalDevices

I’ve often wondered this myself. For a tiny country the size of New Jersey and with a population about equal to that of Virginia, Israel seems to have a disproportionate number of medical device companies. There are about 700 medical device companies in Israel, making it truly a global hotspot for medical technology.

Here’s an interesting table from the Times of Israel comparing entrepreneurial countries:

http://cdn.timesofisrael.com/uploads/2013/02/OurCrowd-_-Funding-2.0-Why-Israel-635x357.jpg
from Times of Israel

It’s obvious that Israel is highly competitive internationally.

Israel’s focus on medical devices is partially a result of the large and growing defense industry in Israel coupled with mandatory military service, according to the article in Fierce Medical Devices. Defense technology is highly sophisticated. Young Israelis go into military service at 18 and acquire technical exposure and education, resulting in many engineers leaving the military and looking to start careers as entrepreneurs. The burgeoning medical device industry, with many technological similarities to defense and aerospace, offers opportunity, mentoring, and encouragement for aspiring entrepreneurs to start their careers.

It also helps that Israel has a smart, educated, entrepreneurial professional class. These business people are well-connected internationally and are able to detect trends and aggressively pursue opportunities in new market segments like renal denervation and neurostimulation.

Takeaways: Israel has become a nexus for medical device companies. Many of these companies are eager to access the U.S. healthcare market. There are opportunities for U.S. medical technology companies to partner with Israeli companies. Start by accessing your own network. It’s almost certain that you or someone you know has contacts in Israel. You can also contact the Israeli trade mission in the U.S., perhaps even in your state, as both the U.S. and Israeli governments are highly supportive of the industry.

Read more: How did Israel become a hotbed for medical devices? – FierceMedicalDevices.

3 things that will help hardware entrepreneurs build their startups | MedCity News

I’ve  suspected for some time that hardware, i.e., real life products, are tougher to successfully commercialize than software products.

hardware

For one thing, the cost of hardware product development is much higher. Assume that the hardware design cost is roughly equivalent to the development cost of a software product. For hardware, you then need prototype tooling, pilot tooling, and production tooling – all expensive. Real world testing and validation is time-consuming and also expensive. Animal and human clinical testing is complicated and risky. Then there are the costs of inventory and physical distribution as well as warranty and repair. Lastly, the profit margins are much lower than software!

“Starting a venture is hard — actually, if people knew how hard, they wouldn’t do it — but starting a hardware venture is three times as hard,” said angel investor and Txtr CEO Christophe Maire

The premise of this article is that there are a few things one can do to mitigate the risks inherent in hardware commercialization (these mitigations are not limited to medical technology):

  1. Launch the product online
  2. Simplify, simplify, simplify
  3. Combine hardware with a service

Starting with online sales and distribution limits your financial exposure by not having to stock a distribution channel/pipeline (assuming you can find distribution partners as a startup). You can also defer the substantial investment needed for a sales force. The upside is that you still have a global footprint. As demand and revenues grow, you can either bootstrap growth using early revenues or use the growth as evidence of demand to obtain angel or venture funding.

The big challenge with online distribution and sales is creating awareness and demand. Your online marketing skills will be put to the test. Of course, you could hire a freelancer or consultant for a short term project to “prime the pump” and get the product launched.

Creating online stores for physical products has never been easier or less costly. You can set up a store at Amazon.com for example. Amazon will take care of everything related to online sales, for a hefty percentage of the action, of course. You can even drop ship from your warehouse as the orders roll in. Companies like UPS and FedEx will physically store your inventory in strategic locations to minimize shipping time and customs delays to overseas markets.

Simplification is important, especially for a first product. You should select your most likely customer and develop a minimum viable product for that customer type. Extra features can be added later.

The prime objective is to get to market and scale up as quickly as possible. Since seed and angel funding is very difficult to obtain for early stage hardware startups, you will probably be doing a lot of bootstrapping and trying to save money everywhere possible.

Simplification can also be a competitive advantage. For every early customer you acquire, that’s one less customer for your competitors (unless you screw up the relationship with poor quality or unrealistic promises). Once you have established that early relationship, customers are more patient and more likely to wait for the enhancements you showed them on your product roadmap.

Finally, combining hardware with a service puts your startup into a different class altogether. You can create a recurring, high margin revenue stream in addition to ordinary product revenue.

There are obvious services like training, extra warranties, service and maintenance contracts, leases, short-term loaners/rentals and hardware upgrade/refresh cycles. There are new services being created every day like cloud-based storage of the data generated by your hardware. Many companies are developing mobile and desktop apps for remote viewing, control, or manipulation of their products and the data they generate. You may be able to offer data analysis or even offer access to anonymized, pooled data from all of your customers. That could be a strategic advantage for your customers!

Takeaways: Hardware commercialization is hard. Because we still live in a physical world, there will always be a need for tangible products. Because hardware development is expensive and risky, always try to limit your risk and exposure. Startups look a lot bigger online – use that to your advantage. Keep your first product simple. Ruthlessly eliminate any features or functions that are not necessary to get a sale. Lastly, look for alternate ways to generate revenue, especially recurring revenues through value-added services.

Read more: 3 things that will help hardware entrepreneurs build their startups | MedCity News.

Smart Spoon, New Apps Help People with Parkinson’s, Essential Tremors | Medgadget

Who would have expected the development of a Smart Spoon? The founders of Lift Labs, a San Francisco technology company, that’s who.

I like this device because it builds on existing technology – the same type of technology that enables cardiovascular surgeons to perform intricate bypass surgery on beating hearts.

The developers and engineers applied their technology to a completely different use, interpreting and negating the arm and hand tremors caused by Parkinson’s Disease and the neurological disorder Essential Tremor. Next, the developers identified a problematic function associated with the tremors: eating! They then used their Liftware Active Cancellation of Tremor technology to control a spoon with a built-in electromechanical actuator that cancels out the tremors, enabling the user to eat unassisted.

I expect this device to get a lot of attention from Parkinson’s and Essential Tremor patients and their families. The patients can eat unassisted (what adult wants to be spoon fed?) and maintain their dignity.

The company promises other attachments beyond the spoon. It will be interesting to see what they develop for an encore – a writing pen? A Smart Stylus to control a tablet or a smartphone? How about a Smart Mug? The company also has a free smartphone app using their Active Cancellation of Tremor technology to provide cadence guidance for walking to prevent shuffling.

Lift Labs has developed another (free) smartphone app, Lift Pulse 2.0, that collects user data from queries (stress level, medications, sleep, exercise) and couples that with tremor information imputed from the phone’s accelerometer. The results are displayed to the user and stored in a journal but also sent after anonymizing to a company database where it can be analyzed using Big Data.

Although these are not medical devices per se, they have the potential to provide enormous relief to many people suffering from the symptoms of these debilitating diseases.

Takeaways: Building on innovations from unrelated markets is a great way to achieve instant traction in a startup or on a product development project with a tight budget. Obviously, it pays to engage a patent attorney to determine if you have a non-infringing use. If the new market is sufficiently noncompetitive with the existing market you may be able to negotiate a reasonable royalty fee or rate. Finally, identify the segment and application with the largest unmet need and you just might be on the verge of a disruptive innovation. I’m sure the Parkinson’s sufferers being spoonfed or using sippy cups and the like would agree.

Read more: Smart Spoon, New Apps Help People with Parkinson’s, Essential Tremors | Medgadget

Lift Labs

Wow of the Week: A flu vaccination you could give yourself, with no shots involved | MedCity News

Very cool, and a great use of microfabrication technology. This microneedle array delivers its vaccine payload painlessly into the skin and the needles dissolve. Perhaps your healthcare insurer will mail your vaccine to you in the not too distant future.

The microneedle array (still in the animal research phase) could be an important tool for vaccine delivery in developing countries where vaccine doses must be transported to remote populations and refrigeration equipment is not readily available. And perhaps it will increase the participation in flu and other vaccine programs by people who have needle and/or pain phobias.

I’m aware of at least one other company commercializing a microneedle-based medical product. The startup company is Kitotech, based in Seattle, and they have developed a product called Kitostitch. The Kitostitch product is intended to replace steri-strips for primary wound closure. The value proposition is a little less clear in that case. In my experience, it’s tough to oust incumbent technology even if it’s mediocre, when there’s no nagging problem being solved.

Takeaways: There are plenty of unsolved medical problems, some big and some small, that can benefit from smart innovation. The technology of vaccine injection would seem to have been perfected or at least exhausted of innovation but these researchers created a completely new inoculation technology. Complacency is the enemy of innovation. Do not ever assume that a “better mousetrap” cannot be designed for a particular need. Most important is that you keep looking for unsolved problems and unmet needs.

Read more: Wow of the Week: A flu vaccination you could give yourself, with no shots involved | MedCity News.

Hips and knees: Consumers Union calls for no-cost revision warranties | MassDevice

Adding patient warranties to hip and knee implants would be a disruptive move if it’s ever offered…or mandated.

guaranteed

Implants are Big Business. The article states that there were 1.2 million hip and knee surgeries in the U.S. in 2011. That number is expected to increase to 4 million by 2030 as the last of the Baby Boomers ages into their golden years. Half of those surgeries, however, will be in patients under 65.

Of course, a major challenge in orthopedic implants is making them and implanting them so they last the life of the patient. With many people living well into their 80s and 90s today, an implant may be expected to last 25-30 years.  Revision surgery is messy and expensive. Patients are not happy about having to undergo implant surgery for a second time just because they outlived the first implant. And the risks of implant surgery increase as patients age.

Since implants are a fraction of the cost of joint surgery (a substantial fraction, but a fraction nonetheless), offering a warranty on the entire revision surgery would be a huge financial liability for the medical device manufacturers and unlikely to happen unless compelled by law. Of course, there are other big players involved, namely Medicare. Since most of the implant failures occur in older patients, Medicare foots almost all of the bill.

As we get deeper into healthcare reform and start to have fact-based discussions about costs vs.outcomes (one can hope, right?), issues like this should surface for policymakers to address. Why should a medical device company benefit from an inferior design by being paid for a second implant? What about surgeons and hospitals – if the implant is installed incorrectly, shouldn’t the surgeon and hospital bear some of the cost of fixing it, even if it’s ten or fifteen years later?

In my opinion, perfecting the design of hip and knee implants is a high stakes strategy. The first company to succeed in deploying a “lifetime” implant will start to gain market share at the expense of its competitors. Perhaps it will evolve a business case that enables it to offer the revision warranty. In that event, the market share gains will accelerate and weaker companies will disappear or be absorbed by the stronger.

I would bet that there are many biomedical engineers and researchers feverishly working on this challenge right now.

Takeaways: While in many ways we are in the golden age of medical devices, major changes are on the horizon. Things like lifetime costs and outcomes-based decision making are getting more attention every day. Advocacy groups like AARP and Consumers Union are becoming more vocal and more active. Government agencies are more involved than ever and there’s no end in sight. You should be prepared as the old ways are ending. Not for much longer can you count on selling a device by persuading a physician to demand it and then being able to bank on that revenue stream for years. Data – lots of it, and exhaustively analyzed – will be the most persuasive way to sell and to affect policy.

Read more: Hips and knees: Consumers Union calls for no-cost revision warranties | MassDevice.

Top 10 Pitfalls of a 510(k) Submission and How to Avoid Them | MDDI Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry

The FDA marketing clearance process (never “approval” for a class II or 510(k) device) can be maddeningly ambiguous, time-consuming, expensive, and risky if conducted incorrectly. There are, however, many companies that have a straightforward and relatively easy pre-market notification process. This article in MDDI lists a number of dos and don’ts to help you and your company end up in the latter category.

“Top Ten Pitfalls:”

  1. Misconceptions about 510(k)’s goals. 
  2. Not knowing the regulatory history of your product in the United States.
  3. Choosing the wrong comparison (predicate) device. 
  4. Choosing a predicate that is not available to test. 
  5. Choosing a predicate that is not available in the U.S.
  6. Not understanding (or being able to find) appropriate guidance.
  7. Not starting validation testing.
  8. Errors and inconsistencies in the 510(k). 
  9. Inattention to FDA’s instructions. 
  10. Missing and incomplete forms. 

My experience is that many people new to the 510(k) process misunderstand the FDA’s goals and role in the 510(k) process:

In the 510(k) review process, devices that meet eligibility requirements are “cleared” as opposed to being “approved” by FDA…The requirements and expectations for a properly completed 510(k) have evolved along with medical technology.

…the documentation must show that the device is “substantially equivalent” to a previously cleared (predicate) device. The device needs to have the same intended use and technical characteristics [as the predicate, but not necessarily the same technology]…The reviewers will also want to see data substantiating that the device’s performance, safety, and effectiveness are equivalent to the predicate.

Here are some of my own recommendations for avoiding FDA pitfalls:

  • Hire a regulatory professional, either a consultant or an FTE. Give special consideration to the regulatory professional’s experience and field of expertise. You want someone who has extensive experience with products in the same regulatory classification and preferably the same medical specialty as your products. If you can’t afford to have the regulatory person manage the entire 510(k) process, negotiate to have them help you with planning and to review all part of the submission as well as any communications with FDA.
  • Don’t second guess or micro-manage the regulatory professional. You should ask questions and have discussions, intense and challenging if necessary, about schedule, budget, indications, predicate device selection, test requirements and plan, clinical study requirements and plan, and so on. Once you have a recommendation, proceed. Trying to force an answer that is satisfactory to you will almost inevitably result in delays and increased expenses. If you find that you are spending a lot of time questioning your regulatory professional’s decisions, it’s probably not a good fit and you should find a new regulatory person.
  • Do not second guess the FDA and do not ignore their questions or recommendations. Also, do not assume that you can rely 100% on their answers to your questions. The FDA will always tell you that their guidance is not a legal opinion and is not binding. As the saying goes, “you pays your money and you takes your chance.”
  • On the other hand, don’t be afraid to ask questions of the FDA. This is particularly true if you fall into the “small manufacturer” category. You can get extra help free of charge from FDA staffers. Once again, however, do not rely exclusively on this guidance.
  • If you are concerned about risk, timing, and/or expense, consider launching your product in another market first. You can generate much-needed cash flow and perhaps even obtain clinical data for your 510(k) submission in places like the EU or a country in South America.

Takeaways: Regulatory submissions and clearances are among the most important milestones in commercializing a medical device. It would be foolish to leave this important function to amateurs or to ignore important recommendations and guidance.

If you are a medical device startup CEO, marketing manager, or product manager and especially if you are without much regulatory experience, be sure to budget for and recruit a highly regarded regulatory professional with experience and expertise in your market and your regulatory classification. The regulatory clearance process is complicated and can be daunting to novices but it can be successfully navigated by engaging experts and by learning and following the rules.

Read more: Top 10 Pitfalls of a 510(k) Submission and How to Avoid Them | MDDI Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry News Products and Suppliers.

What’s in a name? Naming and branding medical device products and companies

rose

We’ve all been there – needing a name for a new product or even more importantly, a new company. There are a number of schools of thought about naming. For example:

 

 

  • Name it for the doctor who invented/founded it. (covert endorsement or the medtech equivalent of vanity plates)
  • Just pick something generic and get it out there (Wile E. Coyote’s Acme Products company)
  • Smash two words together with a capital or two in the middle. (“CamelType”)
  • Make an implied promise with the name. (Intuitive Surgical, da Vinci)
  • Make up a serious sounding, semi-scientific name. Make sure it has a trendy consonant in it or is loosely based on some obscure Latin word. (the Immunex factor)
  • Let the engineers name it. (any number of unmemorable names)
  • Pay a naming/branding consultant a lot of money only to find out the .com URL is taken.
  • Convene a cross-functional branding brainstorming team to identify alternatives, then: a) have an all-employee company vote or (less likely to have long-term negative repercussions) b) let the CEO pick his/her favorite.
  • Use the code name of the development project. (more often than you would think)

It’s extra difficult in the medical device space, especially if you are in a “hot” segment like digital health. There are lots of other companies casting about in the same pool of potential names and with the same requirements that you have. And, ours being a Serious Industry, I doubt that we will see the medical device equivalent of “Cheezburger Network” in the near future.

Takeaways: Naming and branding is a lot like coming up with the perfect name for your first child. You put enormous thought and effort into finding the perfect name, perhaps even creating a unique name just for your offspring. You obsess over what message the name will send and how your child will be perceived, perhaps for the next century. Big stakes, I know.

The reality is that most kids make their names fit them. Most people use the name as an association to the child and the child’s personality rather than the other way around.

The same  holds true for product and company names (as long as you stay away from the really outlandish stuff). Pick a name without endless consideration of the implications. Then, spend your time and effort making the company and product fill the promise of the name to reinforce positive experiences with the brand by customers and other stakeholders. Soon, the actual meaning of the brand or product name will fade and be replaced by the (it is to be hoped) positive attitudes toward the product/brand.

It’s also helpful if, in addition to not being similar to another company or product in the same segment, the name or brand doesn’t require a lengthy explanation about what it means or how it came to be. Just think back to an acquaintance who insisted on telling you the derivation of the name of their son or daughter.

Here are a few examples about names of companies in digital health. I’m sure all of the people responsible for naming these companies had great intentions and thought their names would stand out. Unfortunately, at least one other person in another company had the same expectation and created a confusingly similar name:

Read more: The apparent shortage of digital health names | mobihealthnews.

Countries With Most (and least) Efficient Health Care: | Bloomberg

Care to guess how the USA ranks in healthcare against its peers?

The U.S. spends the most on health care as a percentage of GDP with the worst outcome compared with other developed countries.

We ranked 46th out of 48 countries in this study. The U.S. spends $8,608 per capita on healthcare while the top rated country, Hong Kong, spends just $1,409. Hong Kong also has the highest life expectancy at 83.4 years while the U.S. is in the middle of the pack at 78.6 years.

Each country was ranked on three criteria: life expectancy (weighted 60%), relative per capita cost of health care (30%); and absolute per capita cost of health care (10%). Countries were scored on each criterion and the scores were weighted and summed to obtain their efficiency scores. Relative cost is health cost as a percentage of GDP. Absolute cost is total health expenditure, which covers preventive and curative health services, family planning, nutrition activities and emergency aid. Included were countries with populations of at least five million, GDP per capita of at least $5,000 and life expectancy of at least 70 years.

If you object to Hong Kong being classified as a country, the next five highest ranking countries are Singapore, Israel, Japan, Spain, and Italy. The highest per capita annual healthcare expense in this group is in Japan, at $3,958 – less than half that of the U.S. Average life expectancies in these countries range from 81.8 to 82.6.

We are spending more and getting less than just about any other country in the world. When I hear people like politicians and business leaders say, “We have the best healthcare system in the world,” I wonder if they don’t have access to these facts, if they are speaking about the excellent care available to the privileged few with excellent healthcare benefits, or if they are in denial about the reality of our situation.

Takeaways: There are lots of opportunities (i.e., problems that need solving) when it comes to healthcare economics in the U.S. The media should reports facts like this Bloomberg article and call out politicians who crow that “we have the best…” We need big solutions to solve this big problem. Perhaps we can learn by modeling best practices from other countries. If you (or whomever) doesn’t like Obamacare (a modest first step), what’s your proposed solution? It’s pretty clear that continuing the policies of the past 70 years will not result in positive change.

You can point fingers in lots of different places: defensive medicine, intervention-based reimbursement, poor diet and lifestyles of Americans, medical procedure pricing opacity, outrageous compensation for hospital and medical insurer CEOs, Medicare restrictions on drug price negotiating, direct-to-consumer drug marketing, overbuilding of hospitals, and on and on. Medical device overuse and misuse is part of the problem as well, although the entire industry is “only” 6% of total healthcare expenditures.

The Affordable Care Act, although flawed, is at least a first attempt to address some of these issues. Early reports indicate that it may be having positive effects already.

Read more: Most Efficient Health Care: Countries – Bloomberg Best (and Worst).

Digital health needs more physician entrepreneurs | mobihealthnews

Are you aware of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs (SOPE)? I was not. The CEO of SOPE, Dr. Arlen D. Meyers, a practicing ENT surgeon, says that doctors are not trained in business while in medical school or residency. That has certainly been my experience.

While many physicians have an entrepreneurial mindset, only a few I’ve met and worked with have business skills that would enable them to start and/or run a company. Some are just natural entrepreneurs although I think there are far more who believe they have business acumen but don’t have any or don’t have much business savvy. Those doctors are the toughest to work with as a medical device commercialization executive.

To address part of the problem, Dr. Meyers has created a certificate program in bioinnovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado. The program is intended for postdoctoral students not interested in a career in academia.

Dr. Meyers also said, “most innovation in healthcare and medicine leaves out doctors and patients, particularly in the lucrative fields of drug and medical device development.” I’m not sure exactly what he’s driving at here. Most device companies, startups included, are happy to work with innovators or key opinion leader physicians to help create, develop, refine, and commercialize new products. They are well-compensated for commercial successes, much less so for market flops, of course. And patients are a necessary part of the process.

Medical device commercialization is not for amateurs and it’s not a part-time gig. Most physicians are incredibly busy people. It seems to me their natural role in a startup or on a new product development project in a larger company is to serve as a clinical/healthcare system resource, product endorser, and source of referrals. Of course, they are free to try their hand at business and create their own startups.

Dr. Meyers also points out that the burgeoning digital health segment is underrepresented by physicians. That may be because the technology, networking, and systems interoperability dimensions of digital health solutions and products tend to be far outside most physicians’ areas of expertise. However, there are multiple opportunities for doctors to innovate. For example, their detailed knowledge of the healthcare delivery system may have given them specific ideas about how to improve patient care delivery with apps. He also believes that non-face to face care using telehealth or digital health products and apps is going to be a substantial opportunity for entrepreneurs, whether physician or layman. Any of those ideas could be the basis of a digital health startup.

Takeaways: Medical device and digital health startups, even with their high failure rates, are attractive to at least some physicians – those with entrepreneurial mindsets. Startup founders and CEOs should identify and recruit like-minded doctors for their executive teams, boards of directors and advisory boards. If you are a digital health startup CEO with a tech/IT background, you can minimize the risk of making bad or just uninformed product decisions and enhance your commercial products by finding and engaging with an entrepreneurial physician.

Read more: Digital health needs more physician entrepreneurs | mobihealthnews.

Presence of sales reps influences coronary stent selection, price | MassDevice

As the saying goes, “that’s why they get paid the big bucks.” All kidding aside, a recent study published in the American Heart Journal confirms and quantifies what most industry insiders know intuitively: there is no substitute for a live salesperson at the point of use.

sales repMany cardiac catheterization (“cath”) labs either stock or make available more than one brand and more than one type of coronary stent. Since there are many different indications and technical features among the various offerings, it’s difficult for hospitals to standardize on just one brand. So instead of “converting” a physician or a hospital to permanent purchase of the company’s products, the sales rep gets to convert each case she or he attends.

Hospitals and physicians are aware of the influence a rep can have over the selection process. Many limit rep visit frequency in an attempt to be “fair.” Another factor is that some reps are technically and clinically more competent than others. They perform a genuinely valuable service for the physician by reviewing diagnostic information and making informed recommendations about the ideal product for the clinical situation.

On a darker note, some reps (and some companies reinforce these behaviors) have personal relationships with physicians, complicating the goal of unbiased product selection.

Some hospitals have even banned certain sales reps or even instituted blanket bans of every sales person from point of use contacts.

The study reported that the presence of a sales rep increased the per-case price of stenting by up to $230. One investigator also said that the company’s market share was increased by the rep’s presence, meaning that the physician used that rep’s company’s products over the equivalent competitive product. This choice occurred apparently because the rep was present and able to inform and/or persuade the cardiologist to use the rep’s products.

Some cocktail napkin math: say a typical rep makes $150k per year in cash compensation. That’s about $3,000 per week or $600 per day.  It doesn’t take many cases per day selling high margin stents to pay the rep’s salary and make a tidy profit for the company. And that’s why successful reps will do everything they can to spend the day in scrubs instead of a business suit.

Takeaways: While good sales reps are costly and rare, and a direct sales force is insanely expensive, you get what you pay for. Of course there are other options such as manufacturers’ reps, distributors, telesales, and partnering/sales force sharing. In all of those alternative approaches, you give up control and access compared with the direct sales rep model.

The key in marketing and selling high value, high price, high margin products is to recruit, hire, and maintain the highest quality sales force possible and to design an incentive compensation program that encourages desired behavior while dissuading undesirable behavior. Easier said than done, and probably merits the hiring of an experienced sales executive to create and manage the sale team.

Keep in mind that sales reps pay for themselves more directly than any other employee. Budget appropriately if you decide that a direct sales force is right for your venture. Plan for longer sales cycles and reduced market share if you decide that direct sales is a luxury your company or startup cannot afford.

Read more: Study: Presence of sales reps influences coronary stent selection, price | MassDevice.