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Digital Orthopaedics
Transformation Tour:
New Zealand Part 1

digital orthopaedics tour new zealand

After two fantastic weeks in New Zealand, I look back with excitement about meeting so many really fantastic entrepreneurs and get insights into the ecosystem surrounding them.

January is a month-long holiday in both New Zealand and Australia so I am grateful to those who were able to make time to speak with me. In Auckland, thanks largely to Ju Zhang (Formus Labs) and the hospitality of The Auckland Bioengineering Laboratory, we had a version of DOCSF Open House and I had a chance to hear from several startups working on products as diverse as brain mapping for neurosurgery, an app to help patients with multiple medical problems track and merge their care paths, a device to anastomose arteries during microsurgery, AI technology in cardiac imaging, a platform that integrates the end-to-end imaging workflow, and an app to remotely engage patients and their caregivers over their entire perioperative care journey.

One of the challenges facing Kiwi companies is the need to look outside New Zealand for markets large enough to justify an investment. Fortunately, Australia and Singapore form a closely connected open market. In total the GDPs are over a trillion dollars and populations are over 30 million combined.

Making investment in NZ interesting in med-tech is the absence of an internal regulatory agency like the FDA. If a company wishes to test a product, finds an interested surgeon and obtains the appropriate patient informed consent, they can simply sterilize the product and use it. A 1970s era legislation protects any service provider, not just MDs or hospitals, from lawsuits in the case of complications and, in exchange, covers all medical costs arising from such complications for the patient. While this system may raise some eyebrows, it is by and large fully accepted in NZ and is one reason the outdoor adventure industry thrives in places like Queenstown. Given that recently the FDA has begun to accept pre-clinical and clinical trials data from outside the USA, NZ could be a very cost-effective country in which to run clinical trials.

Also in Auckland we held our first DOCSF sponsored Salon, a dinner event to bring together people from the ecosystem to discuss and tackle a major problem they all faced and the discussion turned to health care access in communities far from the major centers such as Auckland. Several issues are unique to New Zealand, namely the importance of ensuring that any solution would be inclusive of the Māori minority population. Language, cultural differences and a distrust of traditional western care were brought up as challenges that technological solutions would need to address. 

Look for a summary of the conversation in the near future as part of our international Salon Series. Another challenge perhaps common to New Zealand and to a lesser extent Australia is the challenge with retaining their top talent. Education in New Zealand is excellent and the top students are capable and competent. However, many are drawn to overseas markets such as the US, or EU. From my point of view, I am really wondering what exactly they are looking for. New Zealand is an extraordinary country, people are wonderful, crime is virtually non-existent, health care is great and the quality of life seems to be hard to beat. My guess: they’ll be back soon enough!

Thank you to the startup companies that participated in the event: