The Knee Bone’s Connected to the iPhone | Straight Talk

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With advances in computing power changing the medical device industry, innovative companies are creating solutions that involve much more than the devices themselves.

By Zeeshan Tariq, Global CIO and Vice President, Zimmer Biomet

When I began working in the medical device industry 20 years ago, most companies saw information technology IT as a necessary evil. We used it for accounting and other back office processes, but not much more.  

Today, IT has become integral to the entire medical device industry, including core offerings. For instance, we recently began a partnership with Apple to pair our medical device expertise with the capabilities of Apple Watch. This collaboration has the chance to change the patient journey for two of the most common surgeries Americans undergo each year – knee and hip replacement. It’s easy to be excited about the possibilities of this new partnership. Working together, we can improve outcomes for many people.

More than one million knee and hip replacements occur annually in the U.S. Yet, because of variability in patients and physicians’ abilities, standardization of care and recovery for the procedures is still lacking, and costs to the U.S. healthcare system continue to rise. The collaboration with Apple creates an opportunity to modernize one of the nation’s most common procedures, all through the power of IT.

By wearing the Apple Watch and using the Zimmer Biomet mymobility app, patients will be provided with support and guidance as they prepare for and recover from these surgeries, while surgeons will be delivered continuous data to optimize care.  The new mymobility app has several features that use both Apple Watch and iPhone through the joint replacement journey, including the ability for surgeons to send education and therapy reminders directly to the patient’s Apple Watch.  The app also allows surgeons to monitor patient activity levels throughout the days and weeks while they are preparing for and recovering from surgery.  All this equates to an improved experience for patients and better information to work with for surgeons.

In addition to the app, Zimmer Biomet and Apple are conducting a clinical trial designed to study the app’s impact on patient outcomes and overall costs for joint replacement patients, positioning Zimmer Biomet on the cutting edge of our industry. 

Beyond the box

As the Apple Watch example suggests, we are now thinking beyond introducing individual products and toward state-of-the-art integrated and scalable customer-centric solutions designed to connect and customize pre, peri and post-operative workflow and data. Advances in IT are making us rethink our entire industry.

The mymobility app is a front-end example, but there are many others we are working on to enhance our back-end performance, as well, in order to make our organization more efficient, effective, and competitive.

It’s an exciting time, but a challenging one as well, because it’s forcing many colleagues in my generation to rethink how we define our value. Once, we were the people who built these incredible products that improved and extended people’s quality of life. Now, we’re still doing that, but more and more, our products are being built in collaboration with other organizations so that we can do so much more. Zimmer Biomet could have spent a lot of time and money creating our own sensors, but it makes a lot more sense for us to leverage the high-quality sensors that Apple has already installed in the Apple Watch. 

This need to collaborate is driving us not only to a new openness to external partnerships, but also a greater degree of internal openness. And this shift toward a more collaborative way of working, where you have less control, is not always easy. 

This is true for my department, too. Traditionally, IT had a very different model. Someone came to IT with a need, and we would assess if we could do the work. The order would be submitted and somebody sitting in a basement would punch the new program into the mainframe. You order it. We build it. Next project.

Collaborators Wanted

Now the skillsets people on my team need are those of a collaborator and a problem solver. You can teach any hard skills to anybody, but those soft skills are more instinctive, such as recognizing a challenge and understanding how to orchestrate the organization’s capabilities to solve a problem. Or going to your partners proactively with an opportunity.

We need people who are not only experts in technology but fairly well versed, if not experts, in our business, not to mention having a deep understanding of our partners’ capabilities. From here on out, success will require a combination of intimacy with those processes and intimacy with the capabilities in our portfolio. 

Looking ahead, what excites me most is the fairness of this whole thing. Now everybody has access to the same set of technologies, or can get access to the same technologies. In a sense, the playing field is increasingly level.

Being excited about a lack of barriers to entry might sound like a strange thing for a business person to say, but as a human being, it’s tremendously exciting, because it’s precisely this kind of a wide and deep experience that leads to disruptive advances. From the cloud to Big Data to the Internet of Things, there isn’t a trend out there that wouldn’t ultimately have an important impact on the medical device industry. When you consider that the phone in my pocket has more processing power than what we were sending up with our spaceships until relatively recently, the pace of change has been mind-boggling, and I’m thrilled to be in a position to watch it happen.

All in all, it’s an exciting time to be in a wonderful industry. I fell into it quite by accident 20 years ago, and I still feel blessed to be here. I’m one of those fortunate people who jump out of bed in the morning and can’t wait to get to work. I know for a fact that everything I do every day has a direct impact on improving somebody’s quality of life. I don’t know what could be better. 

The Takeaways 

The growing capabilities of IT are encouraging medical device companies to think beyond individual devices to integrated solutions.

Team members need to be much more collaborative than in the old days, before the massive advances in computer processing power.

Barriers to entry keep falling, even in the medical device space. Success will require an increasingly agile and creative application of resources.