Global medtech giant Medtronic manages a highly diverse region that spans both developed and developing markets from its UAE offices. The firm continues to see growth potential in both types of markets, as well as abundant opportunities to improve outcomes for potentially millions of patients through its technologies.
Diverse Markets; Diverse Challenges
As the company’s president for Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, Majid Kaddoumi, explains, the markets under his remit “range from mature, reimbursed and highly accessible markets to markets that do not have basic standards of paramedic care.”
If the markets in this region had the same penetration rates as Western Europe, the business would be at least four or five times bigger in size
He continues, “You can place Central and Eastern Europe, Turkey, South Africa and Saudi Arabia on the more advanced side, then you can find some markets that have good infrastructure like the Gulf region but that are still evolving in terms of access points and desired level of quality. On the other side, there are markets with large populations like Pakistan and Egypt that are trying to build their own fully covered public insurance scheme with better accessibility and where quality is taken into account.”
Despite this diversity, Kaddoumi identifies a unifying factor across this vast region which is “that we are still far from the penetration rates that we aspire to, particularly when you compare it with North America or Western Europe. Everyone recognizes that aspect in the region and the various countries are trying to close the gap fast.”
He adds, “the two main reasons for the current low penetration rates are infrastructure and human resources issues, which goes from physicians to nursing staff, technicians, and even insurance and reimbursement back office team members.”
Kaddoumi is, nevertheless optimistic that this low penetration rate can be overcome and that more patients in these markets will be able to gain access to Medtronic technologies in the near future. “Every year we observe a double-digit growth rate in the number of patients getting access to therapies… There is a tremendous amount of government interest in showing progress when it comes to accessibility to healthcare; they are putting the resources in place.”
The potential is clear. “If the markets in this region had the same penetration rates as Western Europe, the business would be at least four or five times bigger in size,” exclaims Kaddoumi.
There is, though, the danger of moving too fast towards this admirable goal. “We sometimes see the discussions shifting to bringing new technology into the country by manufacturing, which are valid,” notes Kaddoumi. “However, it is premature for most countries because they first need the right level of infrastructure to be able to get to manufacturing.”
The medical device industry is increasingly moving towards greater adoption of digital tools, which are often highly complex and expensive. Kaddoumi, however, is keen to stress that these tools should not merely be the preserve of developed markets in Western Europe and North America, but that they can drive better patient outcomes across the world. “We are looking at interruptive technologies that are made for the less fortunate markets and not only the advanced ones; those technologies could help solve the issue of unavailability of physicians and infrastructure,” he notes.
In terms of greater uptake of data and artificial intelligence tools in the region, Kaddoumi asserts that “Once we have that data, there will be a dramatic increase in efficiency and quality across the system. The standard of care will simply be better if we use data to compare and learn.” He continues, “data can also help us to recognize conditions better in terms of prediction and analysis; it can help make the system more intelligent in terms of prioritizing resources.”
However, technology alone will not solve the complex healthcare problems which exist in emerging markets. “We believe that introducing the latest technology is not enough, we need to support the patients and the system,” states Kaddoumi. “For example, we have signed a contract with Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Health for a pilot program that is already treating patients with diabetes and we hope to obtain the same great results as we did with the same program in The Netherlands. Expanding into this region and training up more staff is a priority. The company has also built academies that allows physicians to be trained.”
He adds, “Another example is the Integrated Hospitals Solutions (IHS) program, which is enhancing efficiency and effectiveness of patient care settings, such as cardiac catheterization labs and operating rooms. We have several partnerships in the region where we designed facilities and provided financial arrangements and trainings to deliver units that are currently treating patients.”
Remote clinical management is another area in which Medtronic is active, although Kaddoumi is again cautious about how quickly it can be rolled out in the region he covers. “We have discussed remote patient monitoring with a few governments in the region,” he says.
“We do have that capacity in the United States, for example, and use it with patients with specific complex needs in remote areas. Physicians are able to connect with patients across the country, but the infrastructure needed, and the language barrier makes it difficult in this region at the moment. The interest from governments is there and hopefully the required regulatory systems will be put in place. It is the future; it is going to happen because it is a great way to reduce costs for chronic care and post-operation care. It is not only a clinical discussion but an economic one as well. Medtronic has the capacity and is working on the challenge.”