Read the Conversation
EF: What is the role Langamedics plays in the industry?
JP: Langamedics represents the small to medium enterprises- tapping into the market and filling the gaps the multinationals might not cover. Being local players, we understand how to meet the needs of South Africans at the grassroot level, while providing world-class quality of product and service. I started my career in the medical sector and that is where I got the requisite knowledge on this niche area and also identified the opportunity. Langamedics started small, but we are making a difference in the industry because we are driven by a fundamental commitment to making a difference in the lives of ordinary people. This is why we do not compromise on quality, whether of product or service, because we are dealing with human lives. Again, focus on quality pushes us to prioritize compliance with industry regulations and standards. Ultimately, though, I personally would like to see more Black people, particularly in rural areas, playing a more active role in this industry by tapping into the myriad of opportunities that are available. To this end, we have employed and trained most of the people who work with us, giving them opportunities to advance in life.
EF: What is the current footprint Langamedics has in the market today?
JP: We have brought a Black-owned company to fruition in South Africa, leading the way for other companies, for the development of the country, in a working collaboration with the government. We started in 2011 and are a small business with 8 key employees and growing, but our footprint is consolidated as the first Black-owned company for medical devices, specializing in orthopedics. We took the road less traveled, especially for Africans, being bold and resourceful as we compete with multinationals, and we have inspired others to do the same. What excites me about Langamedics is that we are able to connect with communities through the African values, such as Ubuntu and I know that no matter how much we grow, we maintain these values.
Our expansion strategy is currently focused in South Africa, where 86% of the medical devices are imported. This is a huge percentage and my ultimate long-term goal is to manufacture medical devices in the country. I have already started the process of engaging my suppliers to transfer the technology into South Africa because we have very limited medical device manufacturing in the country. As the first Black small business to manufacture orthopedic implants in South Africa, we will play an important part in the market and create job opportunities and internships to students who want to learn more about medical devices. This is an industry that has a notable spillover effect and will create other opportunities.
EF: What is the process to drive and bring innovation and ensure the needs of the market are being met?
JP: When dealing with innovation, the first thing to be considered is the benefit to the patient. Our products are used in theatres, so we have to consider things like the time saved during the operation; that the patient heals quicker; that they will be functional soon after the operation or how long it will take for the operated part to fully recuperate; all these must be considered when we decide to bring an innovative product. In addition, the product should be cost-effective as well, even though sometimes when we bring really good products, they are not cheap due to the R&D behind the product as well as the quality involved. Sometimes, we have to negotiate with the medical aid administrators to ensure that the patient, at the end of the day, gets the best treatment. That, for me, is innovation.
EF: What is the split, what are the percentages you have between your public and private portfolio?
JP: In my case, I work more with the public sector because we do a lot of trauma for a lot of patients in the public hospitals. Thus, we have approximately 70-30 split or thereabouts with 70% to public portfolio. Having a split portfolio with 30% private is unusual and the impact on society is larger and more inspiring. We work well with the private as well as the public hospitals-in Gauteng, Limpopo and the Western Cape. When we get a new contract, we start by introducing our products by going from hospital to hospital, introducing ourselves and what we do and what we supply. We then conduct training and workshops with doctors and theatre staff and also get to know the procurement and financial personnel. We do this in order to understand the hospital processes as even though hospitals might be similar, they each have different internal processes. Creating and maintaining relationships, in my opinion, does help and relationships are about communication and transparency.
EF: How do you expect this to change with the implementation of NHI and do you see NHI as an opportunity or as a challenge?
JP: The NHI debate has become one of those thorny, if not divisive, topics in the different sectors of our society. The answer on whether NHI is an opportunity or challenge depends on many variables and it would be reckless for one to assert a blanket answer. Like many developments in developing countries, even the opportunities have challenges that need to be acknowledged and tackled responsibly, with a focus on the beneficiaries in this case the patients. For the orthopedic sector, I see some opportunities with the NHI–although there are challenges as well. For this reason, education is important and should be invested in. We already have a structure for working with the government, although the government still has to specify a lot of details about the NHI- like so many plans and programs, the devil is in the implementation detail. What I have noted and know is that compared with 3 or 4 years back, the healthcare has improved; they have a huge expenditure but their suppliers, even small companies like ours are being paid. When I first started, for example, I used to wait up to 9 months just to get one payment, then the waiting was shortened to 6 months and now it has got much better.
EF: We have seen the transition from communicable diseases to non-communicable diseases, which has brought up the life expectancy for South Africans and means a change in ailments and treatments; do you see a trend for getting more requests and if so which products are most requested?
JP: In the South African market, and Africa as a whole, there is a constant demand for orthopedic implants. While people grow older and would mostly require arthroplasty treatment, there is a constant demand for trauma treatments for various age groups. Another variable we need to consider is that our neighboring countries such Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Zambia still come to South Africa to get their orthopedic treatments because of various reasons. This is the reason that our goal is to take our products and services to other African countries. covering rural, semi-rural and urban areas.
EF: What does access mean to you?
JP: Access to me is to be able to get what you need at the time it is needed. If I get injured in Pretoria, I would get access to the necessary quality treatment and healthcare.
EF: How can it be made more affordable and geographically accessible in the short term?
JP: The government is trying to develop and improve healthcare . It is also heartening to see more specialist physicians with a passion for what they do. The time is right to invest in communities and work together to uplift our people ; sometimes it is not even about money or what one will benefit, but about giving back to the communities. In my case, I find it fulfilling to see how our products save lives, or enhance the lives of people or at least contributing in some way to someone’s livelihood. It is in working together that we can make healthcare accessible to more people in more areas.
EF: My final question is in two years’ time when you celebrate your 10th anniversary, what would you be most proud of celebrating with your team?
JP: I will celebrate if I see continued service outlines, having my staff working with me growing and achieving our Langamedics vision, serving not only outwardly but internally as well, which is pivotal for sustainable companies especially in that people are happy and fulfilled working for us achieving our mission of driving innovation with patient benefit at the center. Innovation exists to improve the patients’ experience and we must have good technology available for making things better for the patient to have the best results. With the right technology which we are introducing in the South African market, we can minimize the time the patient is on the operating table; shorten the recovery time and improve quality of life post-operation.