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Interview with Zenichi Ihara, Senior Analyst in Health Economics and Reimbursement at Medtronic

We were very glad to be able to sit down with Zenichi Ihara and discuss his role in the Spine unit at Medtronic. Talking about some of the challenges the reimbursement team faces in communicating the complex health economics data that he works with, Zenichi gave us an insight into his experiences working with new technologies, and with the BaseCase platform.

Zen, first of all thank you for joining us today. Can you tell us who you are and a little bit about yourself?

I’m Zenichi Ihara, Senior Analyst in Health Economics and Reimbursement. I work in the Spine unit at Medtronic. My work consists in value communication and putting forward strategies for reimbursement and HE&OR for Western Europe.

I’ve lived in Switzerland for 13 years. I am Japanese by birth and was educated in both Japan and Switzerland. I work and communicate in English, French, and Japanese in my global role.

I’d like to ask about HE&OR and your commercial teams. What do you feel are some of the main challenges and disconnects between these two divisions?

There are two main points I think. One is about expertise: health economics is a technical field of study, so there is a lot of jargon and terms that people outside the field cannot understand. And the second part is really the connection we have with the field people, the sales reps and so forth. When we talk about cost effectiveness, sometimes, the next time we see them, they have forgotten. We don’t have the opportunity to connect with them on a daily basis. So those are the two main challenges I would say.

I know Medtronic as a company has really embraced technology. What are some of the key learning points or recommendations you would have for other companies that are trying to do the same?

I think, coming back to the two points I made, I would say that first we have to simplify things for people to understand what is otherwise a very difficult field. But simplifying means also that we need to really think things through. It needs to look simple but it can’t be superficial. It’s actually very difficult to do things simply. We talk about ‘KISS’: Keep it Simple and Stupid. I think it needs to be ‘SMART KISS’: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. HE&OR is very data heavy. We need to really capture all the data possible so that the simple thing that we provide is true and evidence-based.

Coming to the second point, which was the disconnect, the distance between those field forces and us; we really need to keep in contact. The feedback we have is that it really helps to have a roleplay, or meetings with them, to follow up. And also to sometimes let them use our tools in the field, so that they feel comfortable using them.

I know Medtronic has used iPads a lot recently. Judging from your experience, do you think it’s actually going to deliver some value?

Yes. When we did our first demo in our internal meetings people loved it. We are using more and more web applications with customers at conferences and whenever it’s possible. For these particular cases that we did with BaseCase, we are in the stage of using it externally, so we have some of our other colleagues using it and we are waiting for their feedback. We will track them and get feedback from this wider group. I think we are on track and we know it’s going to be very valuable, so we will see this happening more in the near future.

So you think medical device companies and technology applications fit together well?

Yeah sure, because medical devices involve some specific usage which has a learning curve associated with it. The technicality inside the device itself. Technology can show how it is relevant for the customer, which might be a little less intuitive compared to drugs. It can be addressed in a simple manner, a graphical and intuitive way, so there is a clear opportunity there.

Any final words of wisdom?

I really enjoy working with BaseCase, it’s a very responsive company, so I hope the relationship continues and I really look forward to seeing the results of our initial work.