Health Care

Making Omaha a medtech destination

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A new vertical

Officials see so much potential for the center to draw clinicians from across the country—and even internationally—that the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce decided to more aggressively build out a new vertical industry in medical technology, and is actively recruiting more companies to choose the city. 

“(The Global Davis Center opening) was the biggest reason for us to jump into medical technology,” Chamber CEO David Brown said. “Now we’re trying to figure out how it ties in with all of our entrepreneurship work, our existing small business work and our business attraction work.”

The Chamber last year formed a group to focus on growing the sector, looking at research and development, medical equipment manufacturing and supply chain companies. This year, they launched a digital marketing campaign—mostly on LinkedIn. Representatives from the state’s Department of Economic Development will attend the international trade show Medica in Germany later this year, one of the largest medtech conferences in the world.

“Our central location really provides great opportunity from a medical supply chain position. We have low costs and we have great connectivity for transport goods,” said Mark Norman, senior director of business attraction and expansion at the Chamber. “Wages, for the most part are above average and that’s something that we want to attract our area.” 

The iExcel program also recently hired a director of business operations to focus on arrangements with medical supply and device companies that want to conduct clinical trials on products within the simulation scenarios. They’ve begun research and development work with about a dozen industry partners that pay the center to use and test their products. Norman said he’s hoping some of these companies might consider Omaha as a location for further development. 

Dr. Harry Greenspun, a partner and chief medical officer at consulting firm Guidehouse, said the Omaha center’s simulation capabilities offer an attractive environment because getting patients’ consent for device trials is a time-consuming and expensive proposition. 

“You could actually get proof of concept in a simulation center, and many of these large centers can charge pretty heavily, or get joint ventures with some of these companies using their products first in the simulation environment,” Greenspun said. 

That revenue, however, has to be balanced with the main goal of improving patient quality and safety. 

“We have to be very judicious and careful about how we keep those two things separate; we can’t be seen as a state institution to be promoting or selling anything,” Boyers said. “There’s a moral issue and an integrity issue that has to be carefully balanced.”

The mission of improving safety was thrown into sharp relief by the summer of 2020, when it was apparent that medical students wouldn’t get the hands-on training in hospitals they normally would, because of the pandemic. The simulation center helped fill that void.

A safe space to practice

Madeline Cloonan, who just finished medical school at UNMC and is starting residency in general surgery at Nebraska Medicine soon, recently spent a week in a workshop participating in various simulations, from delivering bad news to an actor, to cadaver disections and practicing surgical procedures. 

“You don’t get that chance this early on in any other settings,” Cloonan said. “It’s getting an idea of what it’s like to be an attending surgeon in a very safe environment.”

In April alone, the center had 4,700 people go through various training sessions at the center, most of whom were students. 

Other hospitals in the Omaha area are also looking at having their residents and doctors train at the simulation center. Children’s Hospital Medical Center has its own simulation capabilities, but on a much smaller scale and without the same budget as iExcel. 

“Some of the equipment is thousands of dollars, and some of the mannequins are tens of thousands of dollars, so it’s trying to not duplicate what is already there,” said Dr. TJ Lockhart, a pediatric anesthesiologist at Children’s, adding that they’ve hired consultants to figure out how to build out their own simulation space. 

“One of the biggest challenges is that we’re not next to each other. It’s a couple miles down the road. You can’t just easily have an hour of simulation in the afternoon for your fellows.” 

Lockhart and his team recently trained their hospitalists in anesthesia practices, which these doctors don’t usually perform. With an increase in diagnostic tests like MRIs for children at the hospital, more hospitalists need to be trained in lower-level anesthesia practices. 

“Sometimes it’s hard to get on to our pediatric anesthesia schedule, so we’ve come up with certain (procedures) that can be done without the need for an anesthesiologist to be involved, where standardized sedation protocols can be used for patients who fit certain criteria,” Lockhart said.


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