Focus: The Need for Innovation in Orthopaedics is Real

In my two years of interviewing surgeons, executives and other industry leaders in orthopaedics, I’ve come to understand that the need for new methods, new ideas and new devices is real. There are all manner of problems to attend to in orthopaedics, and many of them require that you broaden and deepen your understanding of the commercialization chain. Changes such as navigating new payment structures, dealing with price pressures and power shifts mean that there are myriad people who need you to create new ways to help them help patients and conduct business – to innovate.

(In compiling this article, I’ve assembled the voices of the following executives and surgeons. They include Wesley Johnson, former General Manager & Vice President of Cayenne Medical; Wael Barsoum, M.D., of the Cleveland Clinic; Matt Poggie, Senior Vice President of R&D and Chief Technology Officer, Acuitive Technologies; Jeff Tyber, President and CEO of Tyber Medical; William R. Jellison, Stryker’s former Vice President and Chief Financial Officer (retired); Blaine Warkentine, M.D., Founder and CEO of CareGoals; Kelli Hallas, Executive Vice President of Reimbursement at Emerson Consultants ; Robert Bray Jr., M.D., Co-Founder of RSB Spine and Calvin Lin, President of United Orthopedic Corporation USA.)

We begin with two opportune areas for innovation: delivery of care and manufacturing techniques. Then, consider the bullet-pointed suggestions and advice at the end of the article for guidance in successfully and profitably pursuing your ideas.

Delivery of Care

During an OMTEC 2016 panel, Wesley Johnson of Cayenne Medical stated, “the innovation comes when you can consider the entire delivery of care and create a system that addresses shortcomings or unmet needs within that continuum.” The fact is, your surgeon customer has new problems, and they’re big. And they involve all kinds of people: administrators, payors, patients. Despite the fact that you may never deal directly with all of them, chances are high that your surgeon customer will.

Chances are also high that you will require the surgeon’s approval (directly or indirectly) to keep them buying your devices. This is precisely the reason why broadening and deepening your understanding of the “delivery of care” players and their field of play is so critical— it’s fertile ground to grow your new ideas and your top line. Examples might include inventory optimization or simplified instrument or procedure trays. We’ve recorded surgeons’ presentations on the waste generated (in dollars, people, time) from just one suboptimal tray configuration. And, there are whole events (practically) dedicated to sorting through the problems associated with hospital management of inventory.

And, of course there’s your data. Dr. Barsoum asserts, ““What the industry needs—and this is a challenge—is good, validated, short-term proxies for how something will perform over the long run. It’s very important so that we can go to value analysis committees and say, ‘Some clinical data is impossible to obtain because of ethical reasons; some are decades out, but here’s the valid testing we’ve done that shows an advantage.’ ”

Collecting data is one thing, but delivering it to your surgeon customers in a manner that expedites and bolsters patient care is another thing entirely. Pages could be written on the opportunities under the “delivery of care” umbrella. I’m just reminding us that there are a lot of people who are in need of help—and therefore, that the opportunity to innovate is real.

Manufacturing Techniques

Matt Poggie of Acuitive Technologies, reminds OEMs that “…there will be a lot of innovation behind the scenes, in manufacturing techniques… that the surgeon’s not going to see or appreciate, but your company is.” So, innovation from within your own company or as the result of deeper collaboration with your suppliers and their technologies is also an opportunity.

Jeff Tyber of Tyber Medical offered up additive manufacturing, 3D printing and bioengineered surfaces as examples. However, he warns us not to just fit neat technologies such as these into applications for novelty’s sake. “Look at the problem you’re trying to solve, determine the solution, and then go look for what you need in terms of the technology.”

Manufacturing techniques that address custom/unique cases or elicit improved osteoconductive response from your implant or improve durability or wear resistance are some examples. William R. Jellison, formerly of Stryker, said of the company’s hefty investment in a new manufacturing technique, “The pipeline of innovative new geometries that can’t be made without 3D printing is the area of focus. It’s not about trying to replace our products and drive down cost. Over time, ten years from now, that could be the case, but in the near- to mid-term, it’s really a focus on innovative new products.”

Here are some experienced voices to guide you in successfully and profitably pursuing your ideas.

Jeff Tyber:

“Listen to your customer. If you go there and listen to what they’re asking for, sometimes that hard data is better than some analytical report that someone crunched from public data.”

“Sometimes being the first one out, isn’t always the best thing. It’s sometimes the second or the third iteration, whether it’s the same company or different companies, that can solve the problems better. You can’t be scared of iteration.”

Wesley Johnson: 

“As you bring innovations to mind and prototype and market, get them in the hands of surgeons as quickly as possible.”

“Going to the registries or literature and looking at outcomes data is a great source.”

Blaine Warkentine:

“Even if you have an innovative storyline, it doesn’t mean the business is going to succeed.”

Kelli Hallas:

“No matter how unique or innovative a product, no matter how fine-tuned your internal processes, no matter how great the initial demand, in order to be successful in today’s marketplace, everybody needs to be paid.”

Robert Bray, M.D.: 

“…stop thinking about what the surgeon wants based on what the surgeon has used in the past.”

Calvin Lin:

“… companies that can respond to the challenges of their customers…helping their customers’ bottom line, will remain relevant in a pressured marketplace.”


Here are some more BONEZONE articles on innovation:

What the Future of Orthopaedics Means for You: There are billions of dollars in combined operating profit and working capital up for grabs for orthopaedic companies that can respond to disrupting factors and restructure their business models, products, or both.  How does that change life for those of you in procurement? What about engineers? How about the relationships along your supply chain?

Zoning In with Orthopaedic Surgeon Entrepreneurs: “Trying to stop surgeons from innovating will be like trying to stop water from flowing downhill. Cookbook medicine based on algorithms cannot be used to successfully treat everyone. Ultimately, we surgeons are still providing an important service and there will always be patients who demand better outcomes through state of the art care.”

Outsource Innovation by Tapping into Supplier Expertise: You can optimize product design, improve performance timelines and reduce costs by engaging your external resources,  and doing so early in the design phase.