A Silicon Valley Future for Medtech
“We make everything for everybody.”
In true Silicon Valley-style, came this bold declaration from John Carlson, president of Flex Health Solutions, during a media tour on the day that the medical device industry’s largest lobby, AdvaMed, kicked off its rebranded annual conference – the Medtech Conference – in San Jose.
On Monday, Carlson and representatives from San Jose-based Flex, the global electronics contract manufacturer, showed off its vision for the future of the medtech industry at its Milpitas campus with promotional videos on wall-to-wall video panels – 48 in all. A tour of its manufacturing lab, robotics/automation facility and innovation center revealed more about the “making everything for everybody” comment. Think screens for smart refrigerators from Samsung that can tell if you are running low on milk to electronic patches to treat glioblastoma made by Novocure that apparently extend life beyond what regular chemotherapy provides to souped-up wrist-worn wearables that apparently put Fitbit to shame.
Designed to impress, the tour showed off new technologies – some unavailable even three years ago. But the one theme that seemed to emerge from the tour was that forward-thinking medtech companies need to be partnering with Flex to know and be part of the future of medtech: apparently, the company’s R&D capability plus its global manufacturing chops is simply not matched elsewhere. This is contract manufacturing married to Silicon Valley tech pizzaz, and also an effort by Flex to move from lower-margin tech manufacturing à la Foxconn to higher-end electronics in the medical/healthcare world.
Take this flexible, stretchable electronic device that felt light as gossamer to the touch.
Anwar Mohammed, senior director at Flex, explained the device has electronic components that won’t rupture or delaminate even after numerous – read several hundred to thousands – use cycles. He said the device could be incorporated in a hospital setting such that it can predict the onset of pressure ulcers three-to-four days in advance.
Carlson was quick to point out that the company makes no healthcare claims – that’s wise given that it would bring it under a new kind of FDA scrutiny – but the device makes it possible to imagine hospital apparel incorporating these stretchable electronics to overcome the problem of bedsores in patients. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality estimates that pressure ulcers cost $9.1 billion to $11 billion annually in the U.S., while the cost of individual patient care can range from $20,900 to $151,700.
Back to the tour, more concept products followed – an insole that lights up when pressure is placed on it. That for example can help in orthopedic rehab after a patient has undergone joint replacement or other ortho procedures.
A graphene sweat sensor is being developed that can tell blood glucose from sweat as well as lactate levels – another way to imagine non-invasive blood sugar monitoring for diabetes patients, perhaps.
“Sweat is nothing but ultra-filtered blood,” Mohammed offered, adding that an unnamed East Coast NFL team is already using the device.
Through the tour, another message was delivered: That, regulatory scrutiny notwithstanding, the consumer and healthcare worlds are overlapping where products in the consumer world are finding resonance in the healthcare world. For instance, the soles that light up is not meant for your 6-year-old. The same technology has orthopedic applications for rehab and otherwise.
The Holy Grail in the medtech world and perhaps healthcare overall is of course interoperability and connected health where data from disparate devices can be pulled into a single thread (maybe someday in an EMR) that can power clinical decisionmaking.
However, Flex for all its tech prowess, has no magical solution to that problem that has bested the industry for decades. That needs a culture shift and more collaboration in the medtech industry, opined Carlson.
Disclaimer: Flex is a sponsor of MedCity’s upcoming patient engagement and corporate wellness conference, ENGAGE, Oct. 23-24, San Diego.
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