NAPLES, Florida - Toward the end of his presentation during the opening session of the annual meeting of the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed; Washington), Humphrey Taylor, chairman of Harris Interactive (Rochester, New York), noted that he himself is a beneficiary of an implantable defibrillator, having received one within the past year.
He added: "But I won't mention the brand name."
That comment obliquely referenced one of the key points of his presentation: that the public doesn't know the names of the companies that manufacture and supply medical devices and other med-tech therapies, and it may be better for the industry that they don't.
Taylor, who bolstered his credits by noting that the Harris Poll has conducted 8,000 surveys in more than 80 countries - and continually does polls concerning American public opinion of healthcare - offered the view that the "invisibility" of medical device companies is a benefit. Becoming more visible, he said, could only draw attention and the inevitable criticism.
"When you become visible, you become a target," he said. "The more successful you are, the more vulnerable you become as a potential target," he said.
As support, he noted the current high profile of several pharmaceutical manufacturers and the significant criticism and probing of their ethics as a result of the spate of recent product recalls.
"That could happen to medical technology too. The name of the game is to ensure that this doesn't happen to you," Taylor said
That was a key backstory to his umbrella message: that Harris's polling activities indicate that most of those in the general public - even those who are more informed than the average - as well as the physician community, generally have a positive regard for med-tech and see it as benefiting patients. And these groups additionally have no "top-of-the-mind" negatives concerning healthcare technology.
These groups look kindly, Taylor said, on what they see as "advancements" in medical technology, especially in the area of diagnostic imaging and less-invasive surgical techniques, believing that they provide improved quality of life and "absence of worry." And this absence of worry, he said, was a very large part of the emotional, vs. purely rational views of med-tech.
Additionally, he noted that the large majority of those polled see as beneficial the increased opportunities for use of new information technologies, such as electronic healthcare records, e-mail and PDAs, advanced imaging systems and home monitoring.
"They're mad about med-tech, but not about its costs," Taylor said, with this comment introducing the primary downside unearthed by the surveys - and certainly coming as no large news flash to AdvaMed attendees.
But he said that much of the concern over cost is directed more at the system of healthcare delivery than at those making medical technologies and practicing medicine.
"Med-tech and healthcare professionals are excused from the furor over healthcare costs," he said. In part, "the diversity of med-tech diffuses scrutiny," and, over all, "strong positives override financial concerns" for the industry.
Beyond weighing these broad general views, Taylor said that the Harris surveys indicate that both the public and physicians do have a range of concerns about more specific healthcare issues, such as regulatory processes, recalls and the need to learn about recalls more quickly.
Gainsharing, the proposed practice of financial reward to physicians for use of less-expensive practices and technologies, he said, is not supported by the general public, the more informed sector of that group or physicians - though he did not say how well their understanding of this concept was tested.
And he noted a minority of concerns that "med-tech puts profits before people" as well as concerns about "inappropriate market incentives."
The "imperatives" that he recommended to the association and its members were to "solidify positives to inoculate the industry" against criticism, and to assume an "offense" characterized by an emphasis on such things as the safety and "under-use" of med-tech, the presentation of ethical behavior by a thriving industry and its ability to "enrich lives."
These are values, he said, that pharmaceutical manufacturers have failed to push successfully, with the public also, he said, in particular not buying the drug company argument that if their profits fall, this will reduce the amount they can put back into research and development.
On some broader issues, Taylor said that any major healthcare reform in the U.S. has come after a major national crisis, guided by "a very strong and effective - and popular - president who makes this a major priority, backed by the support of legislators, corporate America and doctors."
And he said he didn't see this happening "in my lifetime" - that opinion coming from someone looking to be in his early 60s.
Following the presentation, Taylor told Medical Device Daily that he believes that direct-to-consumer advertising hasn't been of particular benefit to drug companies from a public relations standpoint and that for device companies direct-to-consumer advertising could have "all kinds of scary negative effects."
And his pacemaker? Made by Guidant (Indianapolis).
The AdvaMed meeting, at the posh Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort here, concludes with a morning session tomorrow.