The shift to disposable scopes and other medical devices began long before Covid-19, but the pandemic has accelerated this trend in medical technology. Provider and payer emphasis on infection prevention, improved workflow, and better health economics point to single use as the default.
While this may be a given for new devices and companies, turning to single use is problematic for more entrenched companies and suppliers who have designed for reuse. Leaders who value single-use should keep three areas of emphasis in mind as they implement strategies to facilitate their own transition to single-use.
The shift to disposables
Between July 2015 and January 2021, the FDA received over 860 reports of infections associated with reusable flexible bronchoscopes alone. The need for infection prevention has become more urgent during the pandemic, with the four “p’s”—patients, practitioners, providers, and payers—all prioritizing procedures, devices, and settings.
This emphasis, and reports like the one he received about bronchoscopes and incidents in gastroenterology cases, are likely the main drivers that led the FDA to recently update its recommendations for duodenoscopes, approving the use of single-use or disposable scopes over reusable devices. .
There is also an economic case for single-use devices. Contrary to what some might naturally assume, reusable devices take up a much larger portion of a supplier’s budget than disposables. This was demonstrated in a detailed study by PharmacoEconomics, which investigated the time and cost of materials, man-hours and the occurrence of infections for reusable devices. Single-use scopes allow hospital administrators and CFOs to review all hidden costs and save for hospitals and patients.
Finally, single-use devices can aid workflow efficiency. Clinicians and staff always have a device ready when needed, and post-procedure time is saved by simply throwing away an instrument instead of having to properly clean and store it. Performing a procedure anytime, anywhere becomes possible with disposable endoscopes. Single-use devices never require repair or reprocessing, saving significant time and money while preventing workflow disruptions caused by potential delays.
So if single-use is inevitable, the next step after the “why” should be understanding “how” medical companies and device manufacturers can get on the right side of the movement. Those organizations and leaders embracing this move would do well to keep three things in mind to ensure a successful transition to single-use devices.
Clinical value always wins
Why: Introducing a new device provides an opportunity to showcase new technologies and applications for medical settings. But technology for technology’s sake often struggles to provide lasting value. Single-use products avoid this pitfall by providing unique clinical value to patients and caregivers in the form of reduced risk and more efficient processes.
How: Communicating this value as part of your commercialization efforts is paramount to ensuring the message resonates with clinicians, hospitals and health systems. Many innovators often overlook this step and assume that the value proposition is obvious or that the data will speak for itself. Instead, lead in marketing and sales with a clear message and strong expectations about the time-proven value of single-use devices.
Design for efficiency and workflow
Why: It is imperative to design new single-use devices with clinicians and workflow in mind. The purpose of single-use devices is to improve efficiency and reduce contamination compared to reusable devices, making work easier for providers and better outcomes for patients. Medical companies must spend time on the front end to fully understand the current clinical workflow in order to design for maximum efficiency when using single-use devices.
How: This is easier said than done because designing a new product requires a deep understanding of the current technology landscape, customer perceptions, and the company’s internal economics and capabilities. Focus groups, broad market surveys, clinician observation, and other front-line views of day-to-day workflows can help fill in the gaps. Having these important perspectives will make it easier to overcome the very high hurdle of commercializing a single-use solution and deliver on the promise of short- and long-term benefits.
Shed light on hidden costs
Why: One of the main drivers toward single-use products in the US health care system is cost and effectiveness. Although direct purchase costs may be comparable or even slightly more expensive, single-use products provide both tangible and hidden economic benefits over time, such as more efficient room turnover, reduced burden on hospital cleaning staff and reduced risk of cross-contamination and readmission of patients.
How: Device companies are well positioned to build unit economics as part of their commercialization efforts, but single-use devices often require more nuanced research. Providers must do the hard work upfront to uncover hidden costs such as infection risks and the time and cost of cleaning reusable devices to paint a more comprehensive picture of long-term economic savings to health systems and payers. Some of this may be anecdotal as evidence is still being generated, but it is consistent with a growing global consensus regarding the economic advantage of single-use products.
In summary, the gradual shift toward single-use products has continued to change the way companies, investors, and medical leaders think about the healthcare space. There are clear advantages to developing single-use products, but every solution is different and gaps must be discovered, defined and then filled to justify the development costs. By focusing on customer efficiency, cost reduction, and most importantly, better patient outcomes as universal benefits, companies can maintain focus and momentum in this important shift to the future of medical devices.
Photo: Dina Mariani, MedCity News