COVID-19 highlights health tech device procurement frustration

Innovators are eager to help but struggle to make the right connections
By Piers Ford
08:40 am
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Credit - Markus Spiske

The lack of a co-ordinated approach to procurement is hampering the efforts of healthcare tech companies and innovators to meet the growing demand from healthcare delivery organisations for equipment and digitally-enabled remote services across Europe sparked by COVID-19.

The European Commission’s widely welcomed adoption of decisions on harmonised standards for medical devices that will enable a faster and less expensive conformity assessment, and clarified guidance on assessment for 3-D printing and 3-D printed products, the healthcare tech industry is still finding it difficult to make offers of help heard at government level.

The primary focus of these harmonised standards is on urgently needed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) but there is some frustration that they don’t also include more technical devices and services – and that more widely, the medical device procurement system is not ready for emergency procurement on this scale.

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Petra Wilson, European Program Director at PCHAlliance, suggested that the volume of offers coming from the industry indicates a great desire to help, but the lack of coordinated procurement strategies presents a constant barrier.

“Last week I had the experience of being called by a ventilator manufacturer, who wanted to know how to communicate with the European Commission so that they could become engaged,” she said.

“The trouble is that it is very difficult to find anyone who is able to do anything apart from processing the offer and doing anything about it. I was very frustrated – all I could do was refer them to the European Commission and rescEU. But after that it’s really a matter of linking them up with the right people to talk to. There is a plethora of offers but little coordination of asks.”

MATCH MAKING PROGRESS

Initiatives such as EIT Health’s Making Connections platform, launched at the end of March, aim to correct this imbalance. CEO Jan-Phillip Beck said it has already received more than 150 offers/asks.

“When these are submitted via our website, we assess their suitability against our internal criteria and publish them there so that anyone working in the healthcare sector can respond directly,” he said.

“In parallel, our regional hubs covering 25 countries work with our approximately 150 partners and others within our network such as startups and SMEs to secure matches on the ground. With large hospitals, research institutes, industry and academic institutes in our network, they are well placed to scout and coordinate matches.”

Beck said it is a safe assumption that health innovators are not always so well connected with healthcare delivery organizations, and this is something the initiative is trying to help with.

“Within our network of partners, we count many large hospitals across Europe and so our network can help with this,” Beck said. “I also think many of the asks would likely come from those on the front line, and these are the people who are extremely busy at the moment and rightly focused on patient care.”

He said that EIT Health can save healthcare providers time and resources by gathering frontline insights about healthcare providers’ pain points from across its network and sharing them with the health innovation community.

“We are seeing this happen successfully, such as in relation to the need for equipment that many health innovators may have available or can manufacturer, including masks, ventilators, and 3-D printing facilities,” he added.

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