Swiss Medtech outlines a way to permanently strengthen the industry
Thanks to its entrepreneurial spirit and support from partners, domestic and abroad, the Swiss medical technology sector – which had recently become a political pawn between Switzerland and the EU – has managed to solve the serious problems created by the third country status downgrade implemented on 26 May 2021. «Anyone believing that this alone will safeguard the successful track record of Swiss medical technology, however, fails to realize how tough the international competition is. It is essential that all players adopt a joint strategy if Switzerland wants to permanently strengthen its position as one of the most attractive medtech business locations worldwide,» says Swiss Medtech President Dr Beat Vonlanthen. The association presented its «Medtech in Switzerland 2030» vision in Bern today; outlining a way to achieve this goal. «The objective is to continue our medtech industry’s success story. A strong medtech business location is good for our national economy and also benefits patients,» says Vonlanthen. The bar is high: with 63,000 employees, the industry employs 20% more individuals than ten years ago, and a good 1 in 100 people in Switzerland works in a field associated with medical technology. In addition, the sector’s 6% average annual sales growth is well above the GDP growth rate for Switzerland as a whole. Medical technology provides the basis for first-class healthcare, and its significance has become more visible to the public since the Corona pandemic entered our lives.
Less overregulation – More room to manoeuvre
For years, the medtech industry has been facing a rising tide of regulation; driven mostly by the European Medical Device Regulation (MDR), but also by stricter national medical device ordinances. Dr Beat Vonlanthen calls for a reversal of this trend: «Every new regulation should also consider its impact on the competitiveness and innovative capacity of our industry. Instead of regulatory hurdles, the medtech industry needs more room to manoeuvre». One example concerns the procurement of medical devices. «Focusing solely on medical devices with European certificates is too short-sighted. We need to expand our scope to include non-European labels,» Vonlanthen is convinced. As an export-oriented economy, and a country unable to meet the domestic need for medical devices due to its small size and limited human resources, Switzerland is particularly dependent on open markets without technical barriers to trade. «For us, it is crucial that Switzerland restore the solid relations with the EU. One in three jobs in the Swiss medtech industry depends on orders from the EU. In addition, Switzerland must become more proactive in accessing new global markets,» he said.
Promote innovation and deliver to patients faster
Today, Switzerland is well positioned in terms of research – the phase from idea to prototype. However, too many resourceful ideas fail on the way from prototype to approved product. This «gap in translation» is often caused by a lack of up-front investment in the multi-year development phase which also requires clinical trials. For this reason, government funding such as that provided by Innosuisse, must not be limited to the initial stages up to prototype – but should extend beyond. «This would not require more funding, but rather a targeted redistribution of existing funds to innovation projects with the greatest market potential, as well as the initiation of payments directly to companies,» says Swiss Medtech Director Peter Biedermann. Another key element to success concerns clinical data. «Switzerland’s challenge is to remain an attractive location for clinical trials. If it succeeds in doing so, innovation will be strengthened and patients will benefit from access to the latest therapies,» says the Director. Both paths, from idea to marketable product, and from product to patient care are much too slow at present. Many new medical devices are not reimbursed until five years post launch. «In order to keep up with the pace of technological developments, approaches regarding renumeration for medical devices must also become more innovative. For example, we need new reimbursement models tailored specifically for digital health applications,» says Peter Biedermann.
Political discussions focusing solely on the cost of health care will not achieve the desired results. Instead, the goal must be to create the greatest possible levels of health through efficient use of resources. This concept of «Value Based Health Care» promotes a holistic approach across the entire treatment pathway. In addition to successfully treating individuals, it promotes other positive effects such as shorter hospital stays, lower care and disability costs, fewer follow-up treatments, preservation of people’s ability to work, and other dimensions such as mobility and freedom to engage in social activities. «Today’s approach to healthcare is too compartmentalised. We need to rethink and look at the entire patient pathway. This requires the close collaboration of all healthcare players and the longterm recording and evaluation of quality indicators – another reason why the digitalisation of healthcare must progress more quickly,» says Roman Iselin, Vice President EMEA Regional Supply Chain, MedTech at Johnson & Johnson, and member of the Swiss Medtech Board of Directors.
Consistently optimising the workplace for excellence
The Swiss medtech industry is faced with the task of reconciling the highest quality standards with economic efficiency in production. It can only produce long-term and competitively in the high-wage country of Switzerland if it manages to further increase productivity. «In terms of overall costs, I see an opportunity for the Swiss medtech industry to excel in the highly competitive field of product individualisation and industrial series production. However, it will only succeed by systematically focusing its core processes on effectiveness and efficiency,» says Dr Raphael Laubscher, the sixth generation to run the Laubscher Präzision AG family business, a supplier of precision components. Success is largely based on the availability of a qualified workforce, which unfortunately is lacking. The shortage of skilled workers is a major concern throughout the industry and affects not only academic professions, but especially production-related apprenticeships such as polymechanics. «We need employees with the skills today to ensure the medtech business of tomorrow,» emphasises Laubscher, a member of the Swiss Medtech Board of Directors.
Step by step to sustainability
In addition to digitalisation, sustainability is the second major interdisciplinary trend currently transforming global business. The need for climate-neutral, energy-efficient, and resource-conserving operations also poses major challenges for the medtech industry. However, it also presents the opportunity to become a pioneer within a climate-neutral healthcare industry. Environmental pollution is often produced in the upstream stages. «For credible sustainability management, it is therefore essential to include the entire value chain,» says Simon Michel, CEO of Ypsomed, which launched the world’s first CO2-neutral pen in 2020. «I am convinced that only those companies that take responsibility today for the generations of tomorrow will grow in the long term. Customers and investors are increasingly asking for information regarding environmentalism and the CO2 balance. I see climate protection as a competitive advantage, also when recruiting young talent. Climate protection starts with a personal commitment and becomes effective as it spreads through the entire company,» says Michel, a member of the Swiss Medtech Board of Directors.
Swiss Medtech represents more than 700 members in its role as industry association for Swiss medical technology. With 67,500 employees and a contribution of 11.5% to the positive trade balance, medical technology is an economically significant sector in Switzerland. Swiss Medtech advocates for conditions that enable the medtech industry to perform at peak capacity and provide first-class medical care.