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Part 1: MedTech Challenges with COVID

Graphic Image of current case support during COVID-19

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June 10, 2020

Survey of MedTech Executives


We will be sharing, over the next four posts, the findings from our survey of medtech executives.  We polled medtech executives in May 2020 about how they anticipate COVID-19 will impact their business operations.  The posts will be divided into the following segments:

  1. Introduction to the anticipated business challenges caused by COVID-19
  2. Survey results & challenges - Case Coverage & Sales/Physician Training
  3. Survey results & challenges - Hospital Access
  4. Anticipated solution as medtech moves toward a new normal post-COVID-19

During the COVID-19 crisis hospitals stopped elective procedures causing significant financial strain on the healthcare ecosystem.  As the pandemic spreads, the human cost grows.  The healthcare industry is racing to respond and manage critical business issues caused by the crisis.  Even as restrictions are loosening, hospitals are finding that patients aren’t showing up in droves.   A recent Needham survey showed 26% of patients would wait until next year, at the earliest, to schedule surgery.[i]

Uncertainty begets innovation, and we are living in the most uncertain times in healthcare.

Bottom line

Healthcare providers and patients have been forced to accept new ways of connecting, thanks to this pandemic.  Many providers have turned to telehealth as a solution.  Interestingly, Cleveland Clinic, has been working to integrate telehealth into their care delivery model for over 7 years.  Now, they report over 80% of their patient visits are done via remote visits.[ii]  Even Medicare and Medicaid tore down barriers that once blocked use of telehealth.  They are now encouraging physicians to see patients virtually.[iii]

The rest of the Medtech industry is trying to catch up - racing to upgrade their remote support infrastructure.   Medtech innovation, from companies like ExplORer Surgical or rMarkBio, are addressing these challenges.  The ship has sailed; “business as usual” will be anything but usual.

In an effort to understand the challenges Medtech executives face in a “new” COVID-19 world, we posed a series of questions to them.  The results were enlightening and telling.  Surprisingly, 82% of all executives felt customer interaction will look different in our “new world.” Consequently, in AdvaMed’s recent road-map to reopening elective procedures they recommend that medical device reps offer remote support whenever possible.[iv]  With these considerations it is causing executives to think about how to pivot and evolve.  Our survey uncovered these three primary concerns:

  • Access to hospitals for their clinical and sales teams
  • Physician and sales rep training
  • High case demand and not enough support

Everyone has something at stake as we try to determine a successful business model now and in the future.

Respondent’s Demographics

Of the medtech executives who responded to our survey the demographic was comprised of sales leadership (48%), marketing executives (28%), and clinical and training leadership (24%).  Those who responded to the survey covered a wide array of the specialties in the Medtech sector, as seen below.  By having a strong cross-section of surgical specialties, it helped us understand how organizations are thinking about their business operations in a COVID-19 world.

Where have all the reps gone?

While many elective procedures have been cancelled, there are patients with high acuity that necessitate immediate action and surgery.  For these cases, medical device manufacturers have faced a major dilemma - limited access to hospitals due to the high level of risk, and the inability to support their customers and products.

We wanted to understand exactly how reps are covering cases as access to hospitals became almost non-existent.  The survey showed that less than 20% of reps are able to cover cases in person.  This is either due to hospital restrictions, personal concern about exposure to the novel Coronavirus, or companies wanting to mitigate risk for their employees.  Moreover, a little more than 70% of life science reps are remotely supporting their customers through video, phone or some combination of the two.

Unfortunately, there are other instances of med tech companies seeing a complete halt to procedures.  In Med Tech Dive they published that “knee replacements, for example, all but stopped last month. Zimmer Biomet and Stryker were among the medtechs that flagged that impact.”[v] How can the tide turn?

When fear is keeping patients away even as restrictions are easing, it will be difficult for the ship to change directions and for the healthcare ecosystem to recover.

A Call for Help in Reducing Risk

Most of the world has long since adopted the use of technology for communication.  Salemi writes, in Medical Device and Outsourcing, that the pressures to reduce risk of exposure for their employees puts immense pressure on medical device companies to broadly institute practices that have been adopted during COVID-19 - remote calls during surgery.[vi]  Medical societies are collaborating on the best way to resume elective surgery as COVID-19 curve flattens.

On April 17, 2020,  ACS issued a statement in conjunction with AORN, ASA, and AHA to consider the following: testing availability for staff and patients, formation of a committee to determine case priority, and have a social distancing policy for staff, visitors, and non-essential team members.[vii]  Certainly, reps jobs will become increasingly more difficult as the ability to hunt and farm within a hospital changes due to new restrictions.  They will be forced to negotiate the quagmire of new hospital policies implemented to protect hospital staff and patients.  It will require medtech reps to approach customers differently, and companies will need to equip their sales team's to support cases live & virtually.

The upside of having more broadly adopted digital solutions: DATA!  Becker Hospital IT notes, “the COVID-19 pandemic will have a long-lasting effect on the healthcare industry, with new potential for digital health initiatives and data-sharing.”[viii]

Next Installment

The next installment in the series will dive into the challenges medtech companies & medtech executives are facing as we come out of COVID-19 restrictions.  We will share their insights from the survey as they look beyond COVID-19 and plan for a new era in customer support.

Written by Liv Williamsen who is currently an Executive in Residence with ExplORer Surgical, and with support from Jennifer Fried - Founder and CEO of ExplORer Surgical.


[i] Muchmore, S.  (2020, May 19).  Knee replacements nearly halted as hospitals braced for COVID-19, new data show.  Retrieved on May, 19, 2020 from

[ii] Cleveland Clinic (2020, April 22). COVID-19 Is Igniting a Redesign of Healthcare Communication.  Retrieved on May 15, 2020 from

[iii] Salemi, T.  (2020, May 1).  COVID-19 is here: Medtech may never be the same.  Medical Device and Outsourcing.   Retrieved on May 11, 2020 from

[iv] AORN and AvaMed Guidelines.  Re-entry Guidance for Health Care Facilities and Medical Device Representatives.  Retrieved on May 20, 2020 from

[v]  Muchmore, S.  (2020, May 19).  Knee replacements nearly halted as hospitals braced for COVID-19, new data show.  Retrieved on May, 19, 2020 from

[vi]  Salemi, T.  (2020, May 1).  COVID-19 is here: Medtech may never be the same.  Medical Device and Outsourcing.   Retrieved on May 11, 2020 from

[vii] American College of Surgeons. Safely resuming elective surgery as COVID-19 curve flattens: ACS, ASA, AORN and AHA develop roadmap for readiness.  Retrieved on May 11, 2020 from

[viii] Drees, J.  (2020, April 23).  Becker Hospital IT.  Judy Faulkner on COVID-19's financial impact & how digital health advancements will help patients.  Retrieved on May 15, 2020 from

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