Q: We’re now several months into the global COVID-19 pandemic. How has your response evolved in that time?
BvM: At the beginning of the pandemic a similar pattern unfolded around the world, with healthcare systems prioritizing the fight against COVID-19 above all else. As a result, almost all non-urgent image-guided procedures were suspended. That has had two major effects. Firstly, patients who need important, and in the longer-term often lifesaving procedures, are having to wait longer. Secondly, a significant part of healthcare providers’ treatment workload, and therefore revenues, has dried up, resulting in severe financial stress. As the situation stabilizes in many parts of the world, we are supporting these providers to get back on track.
As a company, our strategy remains unchanged, and our mission to improve lives is more important than ever. The major trends we already see in healthcare – digitalization; the shift from volume to value – are being accelerated by the pandemic. The need to improve workflow and increase efficiency, a key driver for innovations on our Azurion image-guided therapy platform and across our portfolio, is now even more acute, with the pandemic placing significant additional financial pressure on healthcare providers.
We are adapting how we serve our customers. We see an increasingly important role for remote solutions in the interventional lab both for operational and clinical support, from cloud-based training on virtual machines to remote support and guidance for individual patient cases during the procedure. For example, our team in India recently used live video streaming to remotely support a coronary intervention with intravascular ultrasound (IVUS) at a hospital in Mumbai, amidst the world’s largest COVID-19 lockdown. Such ways of working will become increasingly common worldwide.
Another important trend that we expect the pandemic to accelerate is the shift of procedures to settings outside of the hospital. As the field of image-guided therapy has advanced, some procedures have become more routine, which means that they can be carried out in outpatient settings such as office-based labs (OBLs) or ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs). These facilities, which have been growing in number in the U.S. for over a decade and are now becoming more widespread in other parts of the world, can help to relieve pressure from hospitals and offer an alternative for patients who would otherwise suffer from a delay in care. In the US, where the trend is most advanced, these labs are already playing a role in providing continuity of treatment during the pandemic.