MedTech will not be wiped out by Apples or Googles – but here’s something to think about

  • Posted on 20.03.2014

MedTech will not be wiped out by Apples or Googles – but here’s something to think about


Serge Bernasconi

Chief Executive Officer, MedTech Europe

Wipeout medtech industry

“Nihil novi sub sole” said the Vulgate. That could not be farther from reality when it comes to the MedTech Europe blog. And I am privileged to be the first author to “lay pen to paper” and contribute to MedTech Views, an initiative by MedTech Europe to establish a true platform for dialogue about medical technologies. No priority is given to any one healthcare stakeholder, and everyone has the opportunity to submit their view as we strive to have an open exchange of opinions on the new platform.

So if you have not yet subscribed to the MedTech Views mailing list, you can do so here. And subscribe your colleagues too to make sure they never miss a story.

The last story on our previous blog was a contribution by Dr. Sameer Bansilal who put the whole hype around Apple venturing into the realm of cardiac arrest prediction into perspective. That view could not have been more timely. While e-health and m-health have been a hot topic within our industry for decades, it seems like the last few months are really seeing a splurge of news, rumours and analyst predictions become front-page news.

Last year, everyone was raving about the Scanadu Scout, a sophisticated device packed with sensors that can measure not only your blood pressure and heart rate, but also your blood-hemoglobin levels, heart rate variability and urine composition, among other parameters. Or more recently, Nintendo’s investor call of last month was all about how Nintendo plans to make a foray into healthcare. 3 weeks ago, the media were abuzz with Google’s high-tech contact lens, and less than a week later, the rumour mill on Apple’s iPhone 6 being all about health tracking and quantified self, gathered steam. This was in the blogs of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, not a geeky gadget website.

I did not read anything much about the medtech industry and how we can bring value with our e-health technologies.

And e-health has a lot to offer. To patients, making them more interested, more engaged and more empowered to manage their own health. To physicians, by making parts of their work more convenient and efficient. To healthcare budgets, by limiting rising healthcare expenditure (for practical examples, I recommend this infographic). And to society at large, by allowing people to return to an active lifestyle faster.

So knowing the value these technologies bring and knowing the environment we currently find ourselves in (patients and healthcare professionals growing up with digital solutions), I find it surprising not to see more activity from our end in this area.

Because while everybody is talking about Apple developing a heart monitor (apparently not going to happen, according to Forbes), Google’s intelligent contact lens (supposedly still years away) or Samsung’s foray into wearables and sensors (poor battery life, limited usability and too little interest from consumers, says The Verge), the real competition will, I believe, be coming from inventors and small companies within the medtech arena.

For example Given Imaging’s “pill camera”  that has the potential to change the paradigm of laparoscopic surgery.

In the same vein, an “ingestible drug-delivery pill” currently in pre-clinical studies, would allow for drugs to be delivered inside the body with razor-sharp precision.

In short, I would agree with Dr. Bansilal who blogged a few weeks ago about how Apple is not anywhere near releasing a device that can “listen” to blood flow and predict heart attacks, despite what media are saying. It takes decades of experience and testing. It is not something that can simply be manufactured for the mass market in a few years’ time. And as such, I think the impact of consumer-oriented ICT-companies (Information and Communication Technology) on extremely sophisticated medical technologies will be limited for the foreseeable future.

Where the Apples, Googles and Microsofts of this world will be having a huge impact on healthcare and medical technology, is in their ability to write excellent software.

Being able to write an excellent app, robust firmware and secure, reliable code is quite straight-forward. Producing or obtaining the hardware to run that software is a relatively simple process too. Microsoft has shown it with Windows, which runs okay on both middle-of-the-road and high-end hardware. It does not work that easily the other way around, however.

Great hardware that runs on less than great software is like cooking in an amazing kitchen with bad ingredients.

Great hardware that runs on less than great software is like cooking in an amazing kitchen with bad ingredients: the end result will disappoint and leave you unsatisfied.

Apple saw it in the 90s, and it’s the reason why they control the entire experience pathway: they produce both their software and the hardware that runs it, and in doing so provide a superior experience to their customers. Microsoft is essentially doing the same thing with its purchase of Nokia. Pure hardware manufacturers are struggling… Where does medtech stand currently?

To place all this in perspective, our industry has decades of experience that ICT-companies often lack in this field. After the initial buzz of Google’s contact lens announcement, it became clear they are looking for partners from the medtech industry to actually turn their prototype into a viable, mass-market device. Additionally, sometimes only a few changes to our current offerings can bring about considerable benefits for our consumers, be they patients, healthcare professionals or payers.

I’m thinking for instance about making various devices talk to each other (remember Bastian Hauck’s talk at our 2012 MedTech Forum). Why does his Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) not talk to his iPhone, and why does his blood-glucose meter not talk to his CGM?

Luckily, we can learn from other industries such as the car and aviation industry. They had to undergo a similar evolution where hardware and software had to play together more nicely while still offering optimal security, safety and a high level of convenience.

So in the end, it’s great to see that several companies are already expanding into and claiming their place in the e-health arena. If we want to remain tier-1 players and ensure that our e-health solutions bring value to patients, the economy and society at large, we should perhaps become a bit more …, and a little less…

For some interesting reads on the topic, have a look at the following stories:


– Serge Bernasconi, Chief Executive Officer MedTech Europe, EDMA & Eucomed

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