While I don’t intend to sound callous about it, the situation does make for an enormous opportunity for medical device firms that manufacture technology solutions that address this need. There are a growing number of nerve stimulation devices that would eliminate the need for the pharmaceutical option, which often comes with a host of other side effects beyond addiction. There’s one major problem—very few actually know about these technologies (at least in comparison to “pain pills”).
When a healthcare issue comes up in conversation with friends or family, there have been numerous occasions where I can point to a device technology I’ve encountered that currently addresses or will one day address the condition. While it’s understandable for them to be unaware of future developments, it is somewhat frustrating to always encounter the same types of responses to the information I share about a device currently on the market. “Wow! That sounds great. I can’t wait until that’s available. Why haven’t I ever heard of this?”
For all the good that comes out of the orthopedic and even more general medical device industry, there is one apparent shortfall. The medtech industry is challenged in how to go about promoting itself and the wonderful technologies it offers. Of course, there are exceptions. More consumer-based products are getting attention in the mainstream, such as home-based tests or hearing aids. While I hesitate to call fitness wearables true medical devices, they are healthcare-related and certainly getting lots of promotion. Weight loss technologies are also something I’m hearing about a bit more on the radio during my drive to work. But these represent only a small fraction of the wonderful innovations this industry has to offer.
Perhaps not every device needs promotion though. When a doctor explains to a patient that they require a new knee, it’s likely a rare occasion the person asks “Which brand are you going to use?” Although, perhaps they should. If I need a new knee, do I want one that’s faced recall concerns? Do I want one that’s custom fit to my specific body from imaging records? Do I want the latest model on the market? As the patient, I should do the research on the available options and discuss those with my doctor.
People research the Blu-Ray player they are getting for their living room or want as much information as they can gather on the best options for the television to hook it up to. A new knee will be placed into a person’s body for years, and most can’t even tell you which company made their implant. They most certainly should care.
That brings us back to pain management and the opportunity that exists there. One of the major issues with implantable nerve stimulators is not enough patients or their doctors are fully aware of the available technologies or even the conditions for which they can be indicated. Maria Shepherd’s Market Snapshot column covers this topic and provides a quick overview of many of the healthcare concerns that can be addressed with implantable nerve stimulation devices.
Another issue Shepherd mentions needing resolution is the design shortcomings of some of these technologies. From size to power source, the technology is not perfect. Then again, neither are the pharmaceuticals being doled out today. The design concerns, however, will be rectified and better products will be made available soon enough. In the meantime, the industry can work on the other aforementioned issue—promotion.
While the pharmaceutical industry itself bears some blame for the opioid crisis we now face, it can be looked at as a model in self-promotion. You can hardly watch a TV show during primetime without seeing an advertisement for a pill intended to help with some medical concern. I’m fully aware the budget for that type of advertising is enormous and the two industries are nowhere near alike in that respect. But if the medical device industry could manage just a small fraction of the promotion the pharma industry does, many more people would be aware of the technology solutions available to them, for pain management, knee implants, and a host of other areas. Educating doctors and patients alike on new innovations would significantly help the awareness problem our industry faces.