By Tim Jennings, President of Custom Case Group (CCG)
My company has been providing custom cases to medical device manufacturers for years. So you could say we’ve spent a lot of time on the industry sidelines. But, as any sports fan knows, the sidelines have been known to offer up some of the earliest insights on the game. And that’s been true for us. Innovations in medical device R&D tend to shape the nature of our custom case orders early on. The needs the manufacturer communicates for a one-off case, the size and features they request, the number of requests for similar sizes and features—all of these pieces of information add up to create a unique picture of the future.
Recently in the custom case business, we’ve begun to see some rapid changes indicating that the medical industry is, most literally, on the move. Following is a quick rundown of (1) why we believe the industry will likely be predominately mobile within the next few years and (2) what we’ve observed to be the most profitable ways manufacturers are meeting these increasingly mobile demands.
Requests for Mobile Device Cases Are Up
The strongest indicator for us that medicine is on the move is a sharp increase in client requests for smaller, more mobile device cases. We’re being asked to provide protective cases for everything from medical simulator training devices to virtual operating room equipment and portable kidney dialysis. And, more and more, we find ourselves working with not only medical device manufacturers but learning institutions and non-profit medical outreach organizations taking advantage of the opportunities the changing industry presents.
We believe this sharp increase has a lot to do with recent research showing that “on-call” doctor visits are actually cheaper than in-office care in the long run. For example, according to a first-year analysis, Medicare’s Independence at Home program saved the organization about $13,600 per patient and $25 million total in 2014. A related 2014 study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society reported that Medicare house calls reduced hospital and nursing home admissions, cutting costs by 17% that year. This year in California, the online publication Health Affairs and the California Health Care Foundation (CHCF) also published data showing that an in-home medical and wellness care program for homebound and senior patients saved money.
Manufacturers are Responding to the Reports
When it comes to the mobile medicine movement, there’s no need to take our word for it. Reports of new programs designed around this model are popping up all over the news. For example, in the past couple of months, California pediatrician Renee Dua launched an app she designed called Heal to meet the needs of mothers frustrated with the inconveniences of arranging medical care for kids. The app allows parents to schedule house calls for their kids any day of the week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Also in California, Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica just launched Express Care at Home. This house-call program uses a mobile app that, like Heal, allows patients to schedule visits with licensed providers for everything from routine exams to non-acute illnesses.
Meeting the Call
As the mobile medicine trend picks up speed, companies on the supply chain may need to adjust processes and procedures to accommodate both the pace and the paradigm shift accompanying this industry change. Following are a few new and profitable recent approaches we have observed from the sidelines and some that we’ve developed at CCG.
Designing According to the Fundamental Need of Efficiency. Mobile medicine is characterized by fast movement. So we approach every custom case request as a problem whose main variable is efficiency. For example, medical devices are becoming smaller and more compact because these features enable efficiency. So, as a case designer, our creative process is supported by the belief that the case is part of, rather than an accessory for, the device. It should be small, and it should be compact. Most importantly, we’ve adopted efficiency as the core goal in our design process, regardless of whether there is an explicit request for a mobile device case. This approach can keep your designs one step ahead.
Willingness to Adjust Processes to Accommodate the Need for Speed. When an industry is undergoing a rapid change, partners within the industry who are willing to adjust their processes to accommodate that change will come out on top. For example, the medical device industry is a highly technical one where innovations are constantly undergoing updates and revisions—this is especially true now, as manufacturers have to adapt stationary technology to serve a mobile model.
One understated aspect to this era of rapid innovation is that it requires a lot of back and forth between manufacturers and providers. For instance, several of our customers sell products for knee and spine procedures. Because these procedures are becoming more and more specialized and tailored to individual patients, so are the devices and equipment that support them. Today, many practitioners prefer to make final decisions on the tools and equipment for the surgery, during the surgery. So many of our customers ship an entire product line inventory to a medical facility, allowing the surgeons to choose devices and tools right in the operating room. Once a surgery is complete, the case is shipped back to the manufacturer. The company then checks which items were used during a procedure and then charges the facility accordingly. Used items are replaced, and the “product line in a box” is ready to go out for the next procedure.
We’re being asked more and more often to create cases to accommodate this arrangement, and we’ve seen that the companies who are adapting to this model are doing exceedingly well.
Most Importantly, Understanding that the Days of ‘Standard Procedure’ are Over. With medical technology changing so quickly these days, companies on the supply chain can no longer assume that the “thing they’ve always sold” will work in most cases. To keep up, your company must make customization king. So for every project, ask questions—lots of questions. That may seem like a vague bit of advice, but it really is that simple. Find out as much as you can about the procedure your products will support because, chances are, it won’t be the same as last time.