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A difficult year for medical devices

Demand for medical devices and equipment could disappoint this year as the government continues to devote considerable resources towards fighting the ­worsening Covid-19 pandemic.

According to asset solutions provider and biomedical engineering management services provider GE Healthcare Malaysia and Brunei country manager Kevin Chiow, a majority of the government’s allotted healthcare budget has gone towards dealing with the pandemic, as well as supporting vaccine purchasing programmes.

“This would probably mean fewer pur­chases of certain medical equipment and healthcare solutions. Even so, I still remain upbeat on our chances for 2021,” Chiow tells Digital Edge.

While the government’s capex is stretched, with public healthcare leader­ship having to carefully prioritise spending, Chiow believes there are solutions. Specifically, he says government concessionaires in the healthcare space are in a position to support flagging government procurement.

“I envisage a leasing programme of sorts being conducted via the various government concessionaires. These parties would first procure the medical equipment from vendors like us, and then transfer the equipment over to government hospitals.

“The government could then use its operating budget to reimburse concessionaires, rather than buying equipment upfront from us via capex budgets, which is understandably stretched right now.”

With government procurement not as reliable an earner for now, GE Healthcare is also looking at expanding availability to private healthcare.

“We are exploring partnerships with various financial institutions to come up with easy payment schemes, leasing as well as hire-purchase programmes. We’re hopeful these strategies would empower the private sector to procure the necessary equipment and solutions,” Chiow says.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has an impact on hospitals throughout the public and private sectors, so we thought it important to develop programmes that would be supportive of the institution’s business fundamentals during this time.”

He anticipates being able to publicly roll out a financing facility of some kind by the end of the first quarter this year.

2020, a year for improvisation
Despite a strict regulatory environment in the healthcare sector, public healthcare officials had the foresight to allow for a measure of flexibility as the pandemic worsened over the past year.

According to Chiow, as all-important ventilators began to get scarce, regulators partnered with GE Healthcare to allow the off-label use of anaesthesia machines as emergency ventilators.

“We also held a series of virtual workshops last May to conduct extensive product training on these ventilators and address any concerns healthcare experts had on the use of these devices,” Chiow says.

But could this open up a broader discussion on the healthcare regulatory environment in Malaysia?

Specifically, just about all of the most popular tech start-ups operating in the local healthcare space are either engaged in telemedicine services or providing some form of healthcare aggregator service.

There seems to be a dearth of start-ups in the higher end, high value-added fields, focusing on innovation in diagnostic tools and pharmaceuticals.

“Innovation in medicine comes with high barriers to entry, namely, the capital investments, as well as stringent processes for product approvals, certification and acceptance in the local markets,” Chiow says.

To this end, GE Healthcare does what it can to collaborate with start-ups, integrating their innovations into the company’s suite of offerings. “This is something that we do via our Edison Developer Programme,” he adds.

The programme operates like a healthcare start-up accelerator of sorts. Through this initiative, GE Healthcare provides companies with market-ready apps and products with commercialisation support.- The Edge Markets

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