Medical technology is a €95 billion industry for Europe. John Wilkinson, Eucomed Chief Executive, offers an insight into the organisation that represents 500,000 people employed by this vital sector.
Could you explain the aim of Eucomed and what you seek to deliver?
Eucomed represents the medical technology industry in Europe: around 22,500 designers, manufacturers and suppliers of medical technology used in the diagnosis, prevention, treatment and amelioration of disease and disability. Our industry employs more than 500,000 people, turns over €95 billion per year in Europe and encompasses some 500,000 different medical technologies, from sticking plasters and wheelchairs through to pacemakers and replacement joints. It is consistently in the top tier in Europe for R&D expenditure, investing around €7.6 billion each year – around 8 per cent of annual sales.
Our mission is to make modern, innovative and reliable medical technology available to more people.
What strategies are you employing to fulfil this mission?
We achieve this by focusing on:
- Promoting a balanced policy environment by engaging with European regulators, politicians and other policy makers to develop and propose patient-centred policies that enable people to live healthy and productive lives and provide solutions that significantly drive the productivity and efficiency of healthcare systems
- Demonstrating the value of medical technology through health-economic research and by organising a range of initiatives where health stakeholders can discuss trends, issues and opportunities. Each year Eucomed organises the MedTech Forum, the largest health and industry policy conference in Europe. Moreover, Eucomed supports the European Health Technology Institute for Socio-Economic Research (EHTI), an independent research institute aimed at developing data and evidence on the social and economic value of medical technology and its impact on the economy and welfare of European countries
To advance the benefits of medical technology, Eucomed believes that it is crucial for public policies to sustain patient access and to encourage vital innovations.
How wide-ranging is your membership base?
Eucomed members include both national and pan-European trade and product associations as well as large multinational medical technology manufacturers, SMEs and academic start-ups. Currently, Eucomed holds 25 National Industry Associations, three Associate Members and 60 direct Corporate Members.
What are some of the challenges that your members face?
Given the specificity of our sector, especially in Europe where 80 per cent of our industry is made up of SMEs, there are indeed a number of challenges that our members are coping with, especially in these times of financial pressure.
One of the challenges is related to procurement and reimbursement of innovative technology. As budgetary pressures rise, hospitals may opt for a range of measures: delaying procurement of innovative technology, increasing tendering requirements, allowing patients to postpone elective procedures, or implementing short-term government-led cost-cutting policies which, however, do not necessarily lead to long-term savings. The use of Health Technology Assessments (HTA) was ostensibly introduced to help identify and accelerate the use of high value-adding medical procedures and interventions, but there are examples where the system is used to act as a barrier to innovation. Eucomed believes that HTA can be a useful tool to inform decision making, because many elements of the value proposition can only be determined with reference to specific local conditions and needs. HTA can encourage patient access to better, safer and more cost-effective technology if the evidence required is tailored to the technology being assessed, and if the full impact of the technology on the entire patient pathway is taken into account.
Another challenge that many of our members, particularly in Europe, are faced with, is the issue of late payments. SMEs as a rule have lower cash flows than large businesses, and are therefore less equipped than large companies to deal with outstanding invoices. It is vital for the survival of companies that customers – including governments – pay bills promptly and predictably. However, €11 billion is currently owed to medical technology firms by three EU Member States. Small medical technology firms are waiting for up to 700 days to be paid by public bodies. The situation has become so severe that some companies are facing bankruptcy or may consider exiting the market. In the end, patients suffer as they no longer have access to the most innovative, safe and efficient technology possible.
In short, our industry is characterised by a desire to innovate. Innovations in the healthcare sector and progress in medical technology resulted in savings in the region of €22 billion for the German economy in the last few years, according to a recent study of the German Ministry of Economics (‘Innovation impulses of the healthcare industry’, 2011). If we want this innovation to continue in the future to the benefit of patients and society at large, we need policy which invests in medical technology and promotes innovation.
Could you give an example of where you might have influenced policy?
Eucomed is continuously engaging with the European Commission, regulators, politicians and other policy makers to create balanced policies that enable innovation in our industry to meet the growing healthcare needs and expectations of patients and other stakeholders. Moreover, together with many stakeholders, we develop and suggest patient-centred policies that enable people to live healthy and productive lives and provide solutions that significantly drive the productivity and efficiency of healthcare systems. More concretely, we are an active partner in the EUnetHTA network and the Medical Devices Expert Group (MDEG).
With a turnover of more than €95 billion every year in Europe, how does Eucomed ensure that human health benefits do not come second to profits?
As previously stated, Eucomed’s mission is to make modern, innovative and reliable medical technology available to more people so that they can lead healthy and productive lives. People are on the receiving end of our products and new products often get developed together with patients. Their wellbeing is our driving force.
Specifically, Eucomed has put in place several measures to ensure ethical, responsible, transparent and green business. One such tool is the Eucomed Code of Business Practice which lays down, in strict terms, the way in which manufacturers and suppliers should interrelate with health professionals and purchasers of medical technology. Each prospective member of Eucomed must adhere to this Code before Eucomed membership is granted.
Another part of this lies with our industry’s green efforts. It does not make sense to allow people to live healthier lives if the environment that surrounds them has a negative impact on their health. Eucomed recognises the importance of sustainability and consequently has several working groups dedicated to the issue, including working groups on REACH, Electronic Devices and a dedicated Sustainability Working Group.
What plans for the future do you have? Do you see the need to extend your work further afield?
Today, many people still consider that short-term cost-cutting mechanisms are the way forward to cope with current budgetary constraints. Research shows that rather than focusing on cost-cutting, policy should focus on investing in innovative medical technology as the solutions developed by our industry do bring about long-term cost efficiency. Therefore, for the foreseeable future, Eucomed will continue to explain the value that medical technology brings to the table, backed by solid, evidence-based research so that our industry can continue to develop innovative, safe, effective and cost-efficient solutions which benefit not only people but healthcare systems at large.
Source: This interview was first published in Issue 12, 2011 of International Innovation | Go to the interview