The rise of the humble medical mask

  • Posted on 17.07.2020

The rise of the humble medical mask


Hans Bax

Senior Advisor MEAT Value-Based Procurement


This blog is part of a blog series that showcases the medtech role in the different phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. Read here more COVID-19 related blogs. More info on MedTech Europe’s info hub

The medical mask was a product once taken for granted, but now is being recognised as a vital tool for public health. From an ugly duckling to beautiful swan, the true value of a medical mask is finally appreciated. In an imaginary world, the story of the medical mask would have probably been like this:

Made of paper, elastic and some plastic, I used to live a very modest life in the shadow of other important life-saving and quality-of-life-improving medical devices, like pacemakers, heart valves and knee implants.

The people who used me regularly regarded me a product that would always be available in abundance at low prices. Most hospital buyers positioned me in the unglamorous ‘routine quadrant’ of the widely used Kraljic-grid. They were often ready to swap me, without hesitation, for the reasons of costs.

And then, one day, everything changed.

Suddenly I became more and more desirable. Demand grew. Jets were sent to fly me into Europe by the millions, I arrived in countries in the quickest way possible than before.

Everyone wanted to have me and was willing to pay good money for the value I provide. I was worn by important heroes like doctors, nurses, and other frontliners.

As the demand overtook the supply, homemade versions were produced by families at their kitchen tables and by fashionistas at fancy design studios. Ordinary citizens have become aware of my worth.

Why? Well, everyone realized, for the very first time in my life, that I could save lives. I was no longer judged on my low cost or disposable characteristics. No, finally I was judged on the quality and safety I could deliver to my wearers, my owners, and the lives I could save around the world.

What a turnaround! My importance is realised and valued for my contribution to society: I was allowed to exist, to contribute to our shared battle against an unwelcome virus that threatened our society, our health systems, our economies – our way of life.

What does the rise of the humble medical mask teach us? There are different stories out there for simple at first sight medical technologies, which however, have an important role to play. We need to change the way of thinking about purchasing decisions towards the value that devices and diagnostics bring to individuals and the wider health system.

To find out more about how medical technology can impact healthcare delivery outcomes, check out the 2019 Value-Based Procurement Conference report and start thinking about joining the 2020 Conference taking place this December.

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