Stryker launches expensive Mako robot for knee replacement in cost-conscious era

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As value-based care and bundled payments begin to take hold in the orthopedics industry and healthcare overall, Kalamazoo, Michigan-based Stryker is doing something counterintuitive.

It is launching an expensive piece of equipment. Coinciding with the first day of the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedics Surgeons (AAOS) in San Diego, the orthopedics company announced Tuesday that the MAKO robot is now officially launched in the U.S. to perform total knee replacements. (MAKO has been available to perform total hip knee replacements and partial knees in the U.S. up until now.)

Why introduce a reportedly million-dollar piece of new technology at a time when hospitals and orthopedics practices are racing to reduce the cost of hip and knee replacements?

In a phone interview, Stuart Simpson, vice president and general manager, Stryker, shared his confidence that the Mako robot with the total knee application would have both clinical and economic benefits that hospitals would find compelling.

To step back a bit, Stryker made a bold acquisition of Mako for nearly $1.65 billion in 2013. Bold because none of the larger ortho players had envisioned joint replacement procedures to be done by a robot. The company has also bucked the consolidation trend in the marketplace – think Zimmer buying Biomet; Wright Medical buying Tornier – although there leaked reports showed that it was exploring a merger with Smith & Nephew. The bet was new, innovative technology backed by proper clinical and economic validation would win the future.

Mako’s total knee application — where the Mako robot would implant Stryker’s Triathlon knee — won FDA approval back in August 2015. But Kevin Lobo, the company’s CEO made the rather atypical decision to delay a wide sales roll out nationwide until 2017. [ I reported on that decision for a different publication last year].

In that two years, Mako’s total knee application has been used on a limited basis in 65 hospitals in the U.S., U.K., Japan and Germany, Simpson said and more than 1,400 cases have been performed.

Now it’s ready for full launch and the hope is that the clinical benefits noticed in the partial knee application by using the Mako robot will extend to the total knee as well.



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