Communication drives MedTech businesses as they seize opportunity in the COVID-19 aftermath

The pandemic has had a significant impact on businesses. It is undeniable that COVID 19 has devasted sales, disrupted supply chains and put regular business practices on hold. There is a lot of uncertainty in the business climate which many have not found easy to resolve. There have been ups and down and while some businesses have suffered, some found opportunities to innovate and adapt. However, as we move forward, the one thing that has been highlighted through the pandemic is the role of communications. In the Medical technology sector particularly, at this juncture, communications will play a key role in navigating the COVID-19 aftermath. Recognised individuals in the MedTech space in the Asia Pacific region recently discussed the same during a SPAG Dialogue event organised by healthcare communications firm SPAG along with Asia Pacific Medical Technology Association (APACMed) on Thursday 16 July. The panel comprised of Quadia Capital’s Mervin Teo, Melisa Teoh from MyDoc, Aileen Lai from Health Beats, Probir Das from Terumo Corporation and Amit Vithal from Docquity.

As Managing Director at SPAG, Shivani focusses on providing strategic and business direction to the firm. However, her career in communications has been largely multidimensional. She has worked with some of the leading PR firms and corporates across different roles in media relations, training, marketing, community relations, crisis management and internal communication.

The discussion began with an overview of the current economic outlook and its various economic impacts. Mervin Teo felt positive about the coming months because of the increased focus on healthcare. “We do believe that over time we will come out of it strong and the global economy will recover. Over and above everything, what COVID-19 has highlighted is the intrinsic relationship between healthcare and economic growth and this will further elevate healthcare to be the core of public and private sector agenda,” he said. Adding to Teo’s comment, Melisa Teoh stated that there’s been a 50 per cent increase in terms of people who are willing to use digital health tools in the next five years. “If they are able to use something that is covered through their corporate or personal insurance, this number is likely to go upto 91 per cent,” she added.

Due to the COVID-19 induced situation, telemedicine has become rapidly popular and expedited the growth of the MedTech sector. “COVID-19 has brought us forward about 10 years in the MedTech space. This crisis has really sharpened focus. We have seen some tremendous amount of people coming together. To see your colleagues become heroes, it’s a big win, I believe,” said Probir Das. Amit Vithal believed it is here to stay. “What we have realised through this pandemic is that the doctor’s community has embraced digital. It’s here to stay as a part of their life and discussions are already happening as to what is going to happen in the MedTech sector to make better patient diagnosis,” he said. A lot of MedTech businesses and start-ups have been using their platforms to provide better patient assistance. “We don't have a lot of resource, but what we have is our platform and the technology. We work with hospitals to give patients access to healthcare. COVID-19 has opened up opportunities and we are happy to help,” said Aileen Lai.

Since most countries imposed a lockdown due to COVID-19, online solutions have been the go-to for most businesses. For the MedTech sector it came with opportunities but also challenges regarding acceptability by users. Vithal said, “Partnerships have played a key role and patient engagement has evolved. COVID-19 came as a true disruptor leaving virtual as the only option. Patients progressed from resentment to resignation to experimentation and finally to adoption. It has been a process.”

However, according to Teo, there is expected to be a “healthcare burden resulting from delays or mistreatment as countries went into lockdown and patients haven’t been able to get treatment,” he said. Das added that the cardiovascular business is severely impacted due to the current situation. “MedTech is not only about services but also products. Our cardiovascular business has been impacted. Demand has been hit in our general product market and blood management business. There's hardly any blood collection,” he stated. In the midst of this situation, the key to garnering public trust in the MedTech sector at large is communications. Exiting the pandemic will require a well thought combination of business and communication strategy. SPAG looks at this in phases which involve introducing prepared communication tactics and reinventing brand image. “Communication is the key and COVID-19 made this our priority. It’s important to make our customers feel confident,” said Teo.

Internal communications plays an important role too. Lai stated, “It’s important to carefully plan out the messaging internally and how it can be delivered seamlessly. We have to see how we can put sensitivity and empathy in terms of what we want to strategise for our internal communications.” Das believes the fundamentals are important while establishing communication strategy. “Broadly we are addressing two things, why will people still work here and why will customers still buy our products. Internal communications is in fact far more important than external communication. Our communication strategy is staying authentic and transparent, making it timely, maintaining collegiality and ensuring communication at all levels. Talent and culture of the company has to be honed by middle managers,” he elaborated. To this end, in order to adapt and readjust businesses, especially the MedTech sector, in the current environment will need communications to not only reinvent but also to create a space of trust and confidence.