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Orthopedic Success Will Require Digitalization of Supply Chains and Products

Digital technology holds promise in revolutionizing how orthopedic care is delivered, from 3D printing to artificial intelligence to augmented reality (AR) to machine learning, robotics, sensors, virtual reality (VR), etc. While all of these tools are being adopted at varying speeds, they all lie at the forefront of development and deployment by orthopedic companies and implementation by hospitals.

One person pushing for digital technology advancement is Stefano Bini, M.D., a knee and hip replacement surgeon and Chief Technology Officer at the University of California San Francisco Orthopedics. Dr. Bini’s dedication to digital technology drove him to found The Digital Orthopaedics Conference San Francisco (DOCSF) to bring multiple stakeholders together—surgeons, hospitals, industry and investors—to discuss and solve challenges through digital health solutions.

DOCSF will be held on January 11-12, 2020. The conference sponsors (Stryker, Zimmer Biomet and DePuy Synthes) and speaker lineup (experts from Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Kaiser Permanente) indicate the wide range of companies seeking to disrupt orthopedic manufacturing, supply chains and patient care through digital tools.

Dr. Bini will draw on his background and information gleaned from DOCSF in his keynote at OMTEC® 2020 in June.

Before the two conferences, we asked Dr. Bini four questions about digital technologies as they relate to orthopedics. 

How would you describe the state of digital health integration in orthopedic care today?

Dr. Bini: Nascent. The collection and use of data to inform everything from product supply chains to sales cycles are just starting to impact the manufacturing sector in orthopedics. To some extent, the system has been very profitable for a long time and the margins robust. Therefore, the cost-cutting efficiency measures required of sectors with razor-thin margins have not been necessary. Digital health integration, in this context the delivery of care models, has similarly not seen a ton of pressure. All of that is about to change with the rollout of alternative payment models and other measures designed to decrease the overall cost of care without adversely impacting the quality and quantity of care. These two trends will require industry to invest in the digitization of their supply chain first, and provide digitally-enabled systems to their customers second.

What digital technologies do you recommend device companies focus on commercializing in 2020? Why?

Dr. Bini: It depends on the use case for the tech. If you’re trying to modernize your company around your product, the tech may be the same, but how you chose to implement it may differ. 3D printing can be used to make implants or instruments. Artificial intelligence and machine learning can be used to manage patients or support the sales team. VR and AR tools, similarly, can be products for sale or internally facing. Generally, sensors are hot in orthopedics because musculoskeletal medicine is the science of motion, and sensors detect motion well. Predictive analytics are really hot because they can be used to help a group assume risk. Telehealth is also mature and can include remote physical therapy platforms, which can now be paid for under the latest Medicare codes.

DOCSF20’s theme is Execution is Everything. How can orthopedic device companies help their surgeon and hospital partners better execute their digital strategies?

Dr. Bini: This is a broad question with many possible answers. However, the following come to mind. The first is to consider [risk sharing] with your customer/partner where possible. The days of selling high cost product without guarantees will soon fade. But to do so, you need to be able to collect and manage the data necessary to ensure that the product is nearly flawless. This, of course, gets back to the supply chain and the need to redesign it so that you can collect and manage data on your product throughout the sales cycle and beyond.

Another is to understand that new tech does not deploy itself, and the hospital, as a rule, does not have “implementation staff.” In other words, if your product includes new tech and you want it to work, part of your business model requires understanding that you own the implementation experience—your staff will have to support implementation.

Again, digital tools can be really helpful. For example, AR support for hardware solutions, chatbots for Q&A, VR tools to educate the user, and data analytics focused on predicting hardware failure or software utilization.

What are you most looking forward to about DOCSF20?

Dr. Bini: Watching it all play out in real-time. It’s pretty awesome to see. The speakers are some of the brightest minds in healthcare today. All the other bright minds are in the audience. Put them together for two days, and magic happens. DOCSF at its core is a networking event where we level-set the audience on a handful of topics and then let the participants discuss what they mean for two days. Every year, we hear about dozens of business opportunities opened by not-so-chance meetings that occur over coffee or in the exhibits at DOCSF. Plus I am curious to see how our new event design works out. We took a ton of feedback and extended the conference to one-and-a-half days to give more time for networking, added a more focused theme, streamlined the leadership lab (amazing people teaching it this year), and brought in some new partners. We also ran a highly successful competition to bring in some new startups through our Digital Dynamos program.

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