CEO of Implanet, a medical device and healthcare information technology company based in Bordeaux, France, Erick Cloix, spoke to Next Generation Healthcare Europe about its innovative technology, 'Beep N Track', and how they survived the recession.
Cost is a key issue in this difficult economic time. Can you explain how your solutions allow healthcare professionals to improve their productivity while reducing costs?
The issues we're facing right now are very simple if you're looking at the economics of healthcare. We have a general population that is getting older, therefore our population pyramid is reversing, this means we have less younger and middle-aged people to pay for taxes, social security, or even their own healthcare costs. On the other side we have a population of non-active people that is increasing, and this older population is not only growing bigger in volume, but also living longer because of all the progress that we have in our general environment.
We're going to need to be able to provide these folks with the best standard of care in more volume and over longer periods of time. The idea is that we use computing power and computing intelligence to actually automatize everything around delivery of the influence of the surgical care, to achieve gains. Firstly, there are productivity gains for the manufacturer, because it's faster to treat the orders, and to receive them.
Our technology provides more information and therefore more security gains. That's the whole game about effective traceability; the chain of information between the product, where it's coming from, the raw materials, the manufacturing process, how it was stored, how it was used, and the proper usage, until it reaches the patient. What we do is add a chip - an RFID tag to all the medical devices that are used in the hospital, and all the people in the supply chain to the hospital and to the patient. Every time they handle the product or they're going to use that product, they're going to use some sort of personal digital assistant (PDA), and they're going to electronically tag the product. You are gathering together information about the product and patient, and you are creating a virtual file, which bears all the relevant information. Then the hospital knows what type of treatment they've administered, and the manufacturer knows exactly which product went to which hospital and to which patient. What's absolutely unique about our technology is the fact that we have a seamless chain of information that goes all the way from manufacturing to the receiving patient.
Do you find that it helps you with competition in the sector?
The other interesting thing for us is that no one up to now has been looking at developing something like this. We find a lot of solutions to optimize the supply chain in manufacturing, as well as lot of solutions for EMR at the hospital level. But again, these are separate solutions, where in the end you always have to recollect pieces of that information, whereas within our system, this is actually a part of our proprietary rights; our IP rights on those technologies. No one else has a fully integrated system that goes all the way through the healthcare chain, from raw material to the patient.
Do you find that it's important to be able to brand yourself for this technology?
We're in a situation where the economic crisis has really prompted everyone to rethink the way they operate. Our success comes from the fact that for the last two years we've provided a solution that makes sense. It's the market, hospitals and other manufacturers that have prompted us into expanding our activity apart from our own products, which of course are equipped with this technology that we are offering to our clients. And yes, it makes sense that we show that our technology is branded.
Our technology is called Beep N Track. I'm sure that you understand why it's called Beep N Track, because you are using that PDA and, when you're tagging, it makes a beep to tell you that it has read correctly to tag, and track refers to the tracking and supply chain services afterwards. And at this point in time we think it makes sense that the technology should be named and humanized so that people can relate to it and it makes sense.
So you'd agree with the usage of Beep N Track, that technology is currently becoming a major part of the healthcare industry?
If you look at healthcare, traditionally technology has really been the tip of the iceberg. Traditional technology in healthcare was focused only at products and molecules that are used within the hospital environment. And surprisingly so, all the handling, all the operations, all the infrastructure around the hospital is sometimes very old fashioned, and with a lot of paperwork. So this creates two issues; it consumes personnel time, and it creates huge sources for errors and mistakes. Up until now the issue with computing technology, ERP systems within hospitals, was that the systems themselves, very often tended also to be very cumbersome. Sometimes those personnel in the hospital were under so much pressure and constraint because they have to do ten things at the same time, that they'd rather go back to the pencil and paper because it's faster for them. On the other hand, if you provide these people with powerful solutions, that are fast, smart and intuitive in usage, they will adopt it immediately because you relieve them of the burden of time, and also because you provide them with the comfort of safety and responsibility gains.
It is my responsibility as a doctor is to make sure that when I have decided to use a product in surgery, that it's the right product for my patient, the right size, and that there's no incompatibility of materials between this and my patient. If there is a computerised tool that checks all of that in a matter of seconds and gives me a green light or red light, it's very practical for me. It's a great help in making sure that until that very last moment where I'm going to practice surgery, that I'm going to be able to make sure that we are not making any mistakes.
Talking about your products, could you explain more about your gold standard products and technologies and why you feel they're so important?
The bulk of products that are used today in hospitals to treat our parents and grandparents are very mature products - products and techniques that have been around for sometimes more than 15 or 20 years.
Do understand as a citizen, as a taxpayer, as a patient, that if it's a proven product, a standard technology or technique, it's only normal that the pricing would not be such as the pricing of a novel technology; it should be priced more reasonably. If you have a technology that speeds up your operations, it has many benefits. An example is it will take less time to process an order, normally the time to process an order from the hospital, is anywhere between 11 and 15 minutes in order to process the call from the hospital, to process the fax, or recheck with the EDI, and with up to about five percent error rate, with our technology the complete order treatment time is under 50 seconds. If I'm looking at what we do with our own surgical products, we've already served 60,000 references to our French clients in over two years, and our error rate in the treatment of the orders and in the shipping to the clients is zero. The technology means that I am much more efficient in my operations, so therefore I increase my profits. That means that I can decide that I can position a premium product with a somewhat cheaper price, and still preserve my profitability.
When you are doing surgery with implants it is mandatory that while the patient is in the OR that before you put the implants in, an aid nurse will open the box of the sterile product, and check the size and reference numbers in order to make sure it's the right product. That takes time: 30 seconds to a minute-and-a-half. With our technology the checking will take ten seconds.
That means that we will save OR time, which is saving money for the hospital; we will save OR time for the patient, which means diminishing significantly the risk of infection, and we will increase the security, because at the same time that we are checking the implant with our technology. We are also electronically verifying the compatibility of all different implants together.
How did you survive during the global recession? Have you managed to ride out the economic storm and come out the other side?
First of all, we are a young company, which is VC-backed, we have strong institutional investors. We are in a situation where the current crisis has prompted people in healthcare not to accept that they need to change, but to become prone to change because they have no other choice. This financial crisis, and President Obama's healthcare reforms, is actually a precipitating factor for us and for our technology to be adopted, because we address exactly that, and it's even more acute because of the financial crisis. I would say that maybe quite contrary to many other cases, the current economic is actually a factor for success for us right now, because it is accelerating the demand for our technology.
So as most people have struggled during the recession, you've managed to embrace it and to be able to use your technology to its advantages?
Yeah, but again, the key factor is that technology, crisis or no crisis, makes tremendous sense in healthcare. The crisis has made everyone realises that they have to change and they have to find innovative solutions, because the current processes are no longer working.
I think our technology is successful right now, because it's not an IT technology designed by an IT or computing firm; it's a technology where the design was domain-driven by people from the healthcare industry. It makes sense, because we have the expertise in healthcare. But on the other hand, to grasp its full dimension and in order to address the mass of the market, we will have to partner with some other firms, probably IT firms, because the market is huge, and even though we're successful, we are still a small company. From our experience with several large computer firms, when we had the chance to meet with several people from Dell, we were very impressed with the general atmosphere or state of mind; call it any way you want, that is at Dell very different from what you find at IBM, Oracle, and HP.
Do you find the implant market is continuously growing?
With the population aging and more countries being able to afford that type of surgery the implant market has between eight and 15 percent annual growth rates. But the beauty is our technology and actually our patents apply not only to medical devices, implants and surgery, but also to drugs. So these markets are pretty large.