Scott Whitaker: Transforming Healthcare and Medical Technology in the Digital Age

Written by Scott Whitaker

How does focused ultrasound fit into AdvaMed’s universe?
We represent innovators and companies of all sizes – makers of emerging medical technologies – including some products that are more invasive and some that are less invasive. Focused ultrasound is noninvasive.

This is one of those technologies where we’re just at the beginning of realizing its value. One of the things we pride ourselves on at AdvaMed is helping companies advance innovative ways to treat disease, so the impact on the body is less, and this fits into that category.

Focused ultrasound is going to be even bigger in 5–10 years. It’s a transformative technology.

More broadly, we’re seeing a convergence of medical devices with digital, and what had been traditional information technology. As they converge, you’ll see the combination create products and treatments that are transformative.

What are some of the specific benefits and challenges of these kinds of medical technologies?
Medical device technology has transformed how providers deal with diseases and other healthcare needs. As technology has evolved, the side effects have decreased. A good example is with heart disease. If you had to have an artificial heart valve implanted 20 years ago, you’d go to an operating room where they would cut open your chest, you’d be in the hospital for more than a week, and you wouldn’t be fully back at work for months. There’s an impact on the economy and the individual. But today, the procedure is being transformed through increasing adoption of transcatheter heart valve replacement. You’re in the hospital for a day or two. You’re not cut open. The valve is put in through a catheter, and a couple days later you’re feeling well enough to go home. A week later you can return to activities you enjoy. Imagine what it will look like 20 years from now.

But there are always challenges. The regulatory environment has improved in recent years but remains challenging. Safe and effective products from the medtech industry require review by FDA prior to market go-ahead. They do a good job with that. The challenge is that the regulators must ensure a clear and transparent pathway so our member companies know how to get products approved. The other challenge is to make sure payors understand the value of medtech advances to the healthcare system, so they provide appropriate reimbursement for these new procedures.

We are also now able to
track arrhythmias from the Apple Watch in order to detect heart disease. That’s transformative.What are some of the most important innovations you’re seeing?
Here’s an example: My daughter has Type 1 diabetes and uses a device that is a classic combination of medical technology and traditional information technology. She no longer has to prick her finger and draw blood 6–10 times a day. She wears a continuous glucose monitor on her arm, which sends signals to her phone. That’s an amazing technology that not many people appreciate. Future monitoring technology will work in concert with insulin pumps to, in effect, turn the entire system into an artificial pancreas. Five years ago that was a dream; five years from now it will be perfected.

What are you seeing on the larger landscape of healthcare disruption?
I see the traditional information technology community getting more and more involved in healthcare. Not just by creating wearable devices but by delivering better and more efficient care. Beyond just the technology, Amazon is trying to jump in with ambition to become a major hospital supplier. Warren Buffett is talking about jumping in. Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan recently announced a collaboration to create an employer-supported healthcare plan. They’re trying to create a different environment for healthcare delivery and controlling the cost of healthcare. They will be a disruptive force. What that exactly is, I can’t tell you today. But we are seeing a lot of nontraditional healthcare companies getting into the space. I think across the board, technology companies recognize the importance of healthcare, and that’s going to be disruptive.

Scott Whitaker is President and CEO of AdvaMed, the world’s largest medical technology association. AdvaMed members make the medical devices, diagnostic products and health information systems that are transforming health care through earlier disease detection, less invasive procedures and more effective treatments, to help people live longer, healthier lives. AdvaMed members range from the largest to the smallest medical technology innovators and companies. Whitaker holds a master’s degree in government from Johns Hopkins University and a degree in political science from Palm Beach Atlantic University.

Additional Reading
AdvaMed CEO Scott Whitaker Named Keynote Speaker for Focused Ultrasound Symposium