The medical device industry is unable to adequately address the needs of children, said Bradley Slaker, founder and CEO of the nonprofit DesignWise Medical, at the Business4Better conference and exhibition, which took place in Anaheim, CA, USA last week. The nonprofit event, organised by UBM, was created to connect nonprofits and businesses for partnerships and networking. Medtechinsider met with Slaker to talk about his motivation for starting DesignWise, and what medical device companies can do to get involved.
Slaker had worked in medical device engineering and product development for over 20 years when he started to feel that something was missing in his life.
“What happened internally was a growing sense of wanting to make sure that what I’m doing in my career is truly making a difference. As I was in the for-profit industry, it wasn’t as easy to see that what I was doing made a real impact. It was really a need of giving back in a more meaningful way that led me to search for opportunities in the medical industry that needed attention.”
In 2008, Slaker founded DesignWise, a 501c(3) nonprofit organisation based in Minneapolis–Saint Paul. The organisation develops small-market medical device products and relies on volunteers and donations to fulfill its goal. Volunteering is not limited to local residents; volunteers around the world (for example students, industry professionals and retirees) can contribute their time by participating in projects online.
While the device industry has developed some pediatric products that successfully meet the needs of children, there is no incentive for companies to create devices that meet niche needs, and the business structure doesn’t allow them to, says Slaker. The pediatric market is only about 1/10th the size of the adult device market, and the market for niche pediatric needs is too small for companies to expect a return on investment. As a result, healthcare workers often jerry-rig or modify a device so that it fits a child, which can have dangerous consequences (see what can go wrong in DesignWise’s YouTube video found at the end of this post). Other products meet children’s medical needs, but fail to take into account quality of life or social needs.
Slaker says that he can’t think of one specific area of pediatric medicine where the problem is more common, and the organisation chooses projects based on need. An example of a recent device in development is an orthopaedic therapeutic product for young children who suffer from hip displacement.
“Parents are told to triple-diaper their children,” says Slaker about current treatment methods. “It’s an added expense for parents and it’s not very parent-friendly.”
Another recent product is an IV device for small children receiving oncology treatment. Because pediatric patients are shorter, IV lines tend to drag on the floor, which can cause them to get stuck or contaminated. The device helps to keep the IV lines off the floor.
DesignWise has developed and designed over 10 different medical pediatric products, but none of these products are yet on the marketplace. The organisation does not plan to become a device manufacturer, but is searching for partnerships with OEMs, local hospitals or suppliers to either license the product, purchase full rights to distribution or enter into distribution-only arrangement.
“The companies that we are talking to are extremely interested and are looking at it as a way to contribute, but there are legal and financial obstacles,” says Slaker.
A major company has shown interest in taking on a project from the beginning to end and Slaker hopes to announce a collaboration soon that would enable the company to adopt a project.
“It’s a nice way for the company to develop its social responsibility. At the same time we are getting a needed product. It’s a fantastic and exciting program that we are going to launch soon. If this model can work, it’s something that we can roll out to other institutions and get them to partner with us to demonstrate their social responsibility.”
Slaker says that the only way the device industry will get involved in developing products for niche pediatric needs is through a corporate social responsibility program.
“To get the for-profit industry to take the ownership of it, companies have to embrace it as a way of being socially responsible. They could address the needs so readily and so straightforward. Every medical device company that’s out there is capable of doing that.”
Companies interested in CSR can attend the European B4B event, which will take place in London on 9 and 10 July 2013. People interested in volunteering for DesignWise can learn more on www.designwisemedical.org.
From Business4Better: Non-Profit is Just Another Business Model
From EMDT: Changes in Medical Procedures Fuel Demand for Increasingly Narrow Tubing (2007)
From EMDT: United States Laws Under Review (2007)