Some offerings really aren’t realized until there’s context provided to them. COVID-19 was the context that restricted in-person healthcare, required stay-at-home orders, and increased demand and expectation for digital solutions and connections. This helped our industry realize the necessity of these remote services. —Tony Manna, president, Cochlear Corporation
Explore This IssueJune 2020
Helped by the federal Paycheck Protection Program, Grace Medical has been able to keep all 85 of its employees on the payroll. Not only does this preserve a culture of caring for employees, it’s also practical: With specialty items like titanium and platinum ossicular and stapes prostheses and ergonomically minded specialty drills, losing employees would mean losing expertise that would be tough to replace. “The skill set needed to make these products is pretty unique,” Crook explained. “We don’t have the luxury of just replacing a manufacturing employee with someone off the street,”
As of this writing, manufacturing is continuing at 100% capacity in anticipation of a demand surge once elective procedures are allowed again. Work on new products has been whittled from a list of about 20 to the top three or four. The company has also spent part of this period manufacturing face shields and other products that the medical community needs to treat coronavirus patients, Crook said.
A reasonable timeline for re-opening would keep the business preserved, but, as with everything about the pandemic, a reasonable timeline is no certainty.
“Our revised business plan has surgeries starting back in June and ramping up to almost full speed by July or August,” he said. “From what I’m told by surgeons across the country, that timeline seems pretty viable right now. But should something happen and we’re not up and fully running by the end of the summer, even with the government assistance, it’s going to be really hard for us to maintain the business as it currently exists.”
Finding Remote Solutions
Tony Manna, president of the North American region of the Cochlear Corporation in Lone Tree, Colo., said the company is taking the expected steps of remote working when possible, along with social distancing and ramped-up cleaning. Its customer service team has remained fully available for those with hearing devices and those who are candidates. He said there has been no impact on product availability.
The pandemic has led to a greater use of digital and remote services, including virtual counseling for potential implant recipients experiencing hearing loss but preferring to stay distant. They’ve also seen increased use of Cochlear Link, in which Cochlear Nucleus users’ individualized hearing data is cloud-stored, which speeds receipt of a replacement device that processes sound. Manna said that the service recently helped a 93-year-old woman, socially isolated in a nursing home, replace her lost device, a mishap that had left her in a totally silent environment. With the service, the processor was replaced and delivered in under 24 hours, and the woman’s daughter said her mother’s face “lit right up” when she was able to hear again, Manna said.
Other remote features continue to show progress despite the pandemic, such as Remote Check, a service that allows remote checking of a cochlear implant patient’s hearing with a smartphone that received expedited FDA approval in April and is expected to be rolled out by the end of the year. Results can be reviewed by a clinician, who then assesses the patient’s progress and determines whether further intervention is required. Cochlear has even been able to use remote programming to activate a hearing device from afar for an 18-month-old, who was able to hear for the first time despite the pandemic.
“Some offerings really aren’t realized until there’s context provided to them. COVID-19 was the context that restricted in-person healthcare, required stay-at-home orders, and increased demand and expectation for digital solutions and connections,” Manna said. “This helped our industry realize the necessity of these remote services.”