Medical Technology for a Healthier Australia

Medical Technology Association of Australia

For over three decades, MTAA has been representing manufacturers and suppliers of medical technology for use in the diagnosis, prevention, treatment and management of disease and disability. The range of medical technologies covered by the association is extremely broad, and includes everything from relatively simple syringes and bandages to complex, high tech items like pacemakers, cochlear implants, and radiotherapy equipment machines. In fact, MTAA members are behind the majority of non-pharmaceutical products used in the diagnosis or treatment of disease and disability throughout the country.

“Our vision statement is ‘Medical Technology for a Healthier Australia,’” MTAA CEO Anne Trimmer explains. “And that really underpins a lot of our work. It’s not just about having a sustainable, healthy industry. It is also about the way in which medical technology products contribute to the health of Australians more broadly.” The association wants consumers and government to realise the inherent value that innovative medical technology brings to the healthcare system. “The message is to see medical technology as a solution rather than as a cost.”

The benefits of utilising the latest, most advanced medical technology are substantial. Newer products are often smaller and less invasive, and using the most up to date device could mean a shorter hospital stay and a quicker recovery. In some cases, newer technologies can even eliminate healthcare visits altogether. “Take remote monitoring for example. An implantable pacemaker can be wirelessly monitored so that patients don’t have to regularly visit their doctors for a check-up.”

Leading edge medical technology can also enable the elderly, chronically ill, or disabled to live in their own homes and still receive the monitoring that they need. “We look at better methods of care for people to avoid hospitalisation and to improve individual ownership of the person’s health,” Ms Trimmer explains. “[These] products produce a lot of good solutions.”

Keeping patients out of nursing homes, hospitals and doctors’ offices can also slash the cost of healthcare. In fact, today’s medical technology has the potential to greatly reduce the overall cost of care for many patients, despite the high cost of individual products. “As in many economies, one of the big challenges is the rising cost of health care,” Ms Trimmer explains. “So part of our area of focus is on how medical technology can actually address some of those cost issues.”

For example, an implantable remotely monitored device might be quite expensive, but its use can actually bring down healthcare costs in the long run by eliminating the greater cumulative cost of regular hospital visits. In fact, the industry is actively pursuing ways to keep patients out of expensive medical facilities. “Many medical technologies now lend themselves to be used outside the hospital setting,” Ms Trimmer reports. “So that cost burden is moved away from the high cost of hospital care into the lower cost of community care.”

Providing evidence that medical technology benefits the healthcare industry – and the economy – is a vital part of the MTAA mission. “We are really focused on being an effective advocacy voice for our members,” Ms Trimmer says, and demonstrating these benefits to government is especially crucial as the overall cost of healthcare continues to skyrocket. Addressing the regulatory burden shouldered by the industry is also critical. “It is a highly regulated industry obviously. One of the big challenges is to ensure that the regulatory burden isn’t set so high that newer, innovative technologies aren’t brought into the Australian market because of those regulatory barriers.”

The team is committed to bringing a balanced approach to the issue. This means “recognising that there is always that need for patient safety, but also ensuring that there is the opportunity for innovative technology to be brought to Australian patients, because it is the patients who ultimately will be denied if the regulatory burden is too great.”

MTAA wants government to recognise that, while the healthcare system is a major consumer, it is also “a generator of industry development and industry growth.” In fact, Australia’s medical technology industry actually has the potential to contribute significantly to the nation’s economic wellbeing. Australian based medical technology companies tend to offer innovative niche products that are very successful on a global scale, Ms Trimmer explains. “Those are the sorts of technologies where I believe Australia has a natural strength.”

MTAA believes that the nation could easily benefit from the increased export and manufacturing of these niche products; as a result, the team is working hard to demonstrate the direct benefits that such skilled manufacturing would bring to the Australian economy in the long term. “Australia is a country that has become quite wealthy from, firstly, its agricultural background, and secondly, its mining,” Ms Trimmer points out. “Mining contributes hugely to our current economic health, but there will come a time when, as a country, we need to look to other sectors to also provide that economic activity. And medical technology development and manufacturing is one that really fits well.”

There is already a highly skilled manufacturing workforce in place here, as well as a solid healthcare and medical research infrastructure. Established companies are ready to move forward, and there is ample opportunity for new small start-ups to form. “We have a good working environment in which medical technology can flourish,” says Ms Trimmer. “And we have a lot of innovative solutions that will change the way in which healthcare is delivered to be more cost effective.”

MTAA utilises a range of strategies and platforms to influence policy for the benefit of members and patients. “I think there are probably several examples of how the work we have done in recent years has improved the operating environment for our member companies,” Ms Trimmer reports. Last year, the team published a white paper entitled ‘Building a sustainable Australian medical technology industry,’ and is currently working on a follow up report that reviews how those sustainability issues might be addressed in a policy setting. “Putting out papers like our white paper on growing the Australian industry has been really effective in raising these issues for wider consideration.”

One of the association’s most influential recent works was its submission to the Health Technology Assessment Review. The team studied the process for assessment that the Australian government made regarding the industry around three years ago and produced a major submission proposing more streamlined ways of addressing future health technology assessments. The MTAA review “recognised the need for a good system to assess the cost benefit and clinical effectiveness of new technologies. But [it also] proposed systems that worked in a way that weren’t overbearing or became cost ineffective in themselves.” The review was well received by government and many of the recommendations were adopted. “I think that it has had a considerable influence on the way that medical technology is assessed,” Ms Trimmer adds.

A current MTAA project focused on the value of technology is also gathering attention. The purpose of this study is to encourage greater government funding for innovative technologies. “A lot of our advocacy is to provide the evidence base for the payers to determine whether or not a particular technology should be implemented in the health system,” Ms Trimmer explains. This means providing substantial proof that these technologies are actually worth the investment. “It is not enough for our industry to just rely on anecdote. We have to really prove the case that we have both the clinical foundation and the economic foundation.” The Value of Technology project evaluates specific technologies that deliver good clinical outcomes in order to demonstrate that there is a cost benefit in adopting those technologies.

Future MTAA projects and goals will continue to focus on Australia’s need for cost effective medical technology. “I would like us to develop more work on the overall benefits of medical technology in a cost constrained health care environment,” Ms Trimmer explains. “The data shows that by the middle of the 21st century, healthcare is going to absorb 80 per cent of our state budget. That is not sustainable. We need to collectively address that.”

MTAA is already doing its part – and the team is determined to keep on advocating sustainable, mutually beneficial healthcare solutions for many more decades to come.

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October 20, 2018, 11:04 AM AEDT

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