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Disposable lifesavers: three companies at the forefront of medical technology.

NONE OF US WOULD WISH it on ourselves. The sound of the monitor's electronic drum, beating in rhythm with our own heart. The hushed pad ... pad ... pad of the nurse's orthopedic whites as she steps in to check our progress. All the unknowns that leave too much room for doubt. We may not welcome it, but chances are, each of us will face some kind of health crisis during our lifetime.

Thanks to a few Utah companies, some of this anxiety is cased through innovative medical products. What's unique about these products is that when the excitement's over, they're discarded. Disposable medical products are a significant segment of the healthcare industry, and these three Utah companies are among the major players in a worldwide effort to improve health.

Utah Medical Products, Inc.

There are touch-and-go moments in childbirth, particularly in high-risk deliveries, when tracking the status of the unborn baby is critical. It wasn't until the late '80s, when Utah Medical Products, Inc. introduced us breakthrough Intran[R] fetal monitoring system, that physicians could get a reliable read on the mother's contractions and the fetus' heart rate--essential factors in viable deliveries.

Kevin Cornwell, CEO of Utah Medical Products, explains that during obstetric procedures, such as labor induction or amnioinfusion, the mother's contractions can accelerate to dangerous levels--cutting off oxygen supply through the umbilical cord, causing the placenta to rupture, or creating a number of other complications.

To help physicians closely monitor this intrauterine pressure, Utah Medical Products developed the Intran catheter. Balancing electronic functionality with the safety of the fetus and mother, the semi-rigid catheter is tipped by a soft boot, where a transducer converts mechanical pressure signals into electronic data relayed to the monitors- More than 25 percent of all births nationwide now utilize the Intran system.

Besides perinatology, Utah Medical Products also specializes in products for neonatology, gynecology and other healthcare segments. With more than 45 current patents, the company's commitment to innovation is clear. "Through our relationships with physicians, we identify a procedure physicians feel maybe has a risk to the patient, [or] side effects that are not desirable. We then try to apply our technical skills to find a way to reduce those risks or side effects," says Cornwell.

Based in Salt Lake City with additional facilities in Oregon and Ireland, the company is recognized worldwide for its achievements. Forbes ranked Utah Medical Products 72nd among the 200 Best Small Companies in 2002. The company's revenues and operating profits are in consistent growth patterns, and its medical products continue to improve the way healthcare is administered.


Blood-borne illnesses such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C pose a significant health threat--and those at greatest risk of infection are healthcare workers. In the U.S., healthcare workers use about six billion needles annually, and more than 800,000 suffer injuries from accidental needle sticks or other "sharps."

With this risk in mind, Bountiful-based Specialized Health Products International, Inc. (SHPT) has developed patented ways to protect healthcare workers, such as its LiftLoc[R] Safety Infusion Set.

Jeff Soinski, president, CEO and director of SHPI describes the LiftLoc system as a "safety Huber needle system," designed for use with patients who have had a "port" surgically implanted under their skin where there is a need for frequent blood work or injection drug therapy. "The port system is a way to access the veins without having an IV in all the time," says Soinski. Specialized Huber needles are used to access this port. "Safety" needles are needles with special features to help prevent accidental needle sticks.

"Up until the fourth quarter of last year, there was only one safety Huber needle product available, a typical first generation product," says Soinski. "We developed LiftLoc as really the next generation product. It provides all the functionality of a Huber needle. It's designed to conform to current user techniques. But it also has a robust safety shield that deploys as you withdraw the needle from the port, reducing the risk of needle sticks from rebound injuries. Basically, 47 percent of accidental needle sticks are from the rebound effect, or when the needle is being pulled out of the port."

The LiftLoc system is the first SHPI product to be manufactured and marketed under its own label as well as supplied as a private label product system to OEM partners such as Bard Access Systems and Merit Medical. (SHPI's other products, such as the Monoject Magellan Safety Syringe, are private labeled for OEM partners.) Established in 1993, SHPI has experienced significant growth since leadership changes in 2001 and is looking at continued growth in supplying the healthcare industry with safe options for vascular needlework.

Merit Medical Systems, Inc.

When a patient is forced to consider open-heart surgery to repair collapsed arteries or veins, cardiologists can offer an alternative. A small "balloon" or spring-like "stent" can instead be inserted into the artery, reopening the vessel.

Chances are, wherever the patient is in the world, that balloon or stent system is deployed by South Jordan-based Merit Medical Systems, Inc. Founded in 1987 by Fred Lampropoulos, William Padilla and Kent Stanger, Merit Medical is the world leader for its systems that support vital cardiology and radiology procedures.

"We have 50 to 55 percent of the world market share--half of all inflation systems are Merit's. One of the keys to our success is innovation--we improve, adding benefits, features, safety and convenience for a competitive price," says Stanger, who is also Merit Medical's director of the board, CFO and secretary/treasurer.

One of those recent improvements is the world's first digital inflation system, called the Monarch[R], which carries over a dozen patents. In fact, 100-plus patents protect the more than 2,000 Merit catalog products, which primarily include products for procedures requiring fluid dispensing with pressure monitoring capability; guide wires used to place balloon angioplasty catheters within a patient's coronary arteries; products used to manage and monitor the administration of fluid solutions during diagnostic and therapeutic procedures; thrombolytic infusion catheters and fluid dispensing systems; and angiography accessories and kits.

Merit specializes in customization of its products for individual hospitals and clinics. "More than 45 percent of our products are sold in a custom format. We develop full lines of accessories--tubing, valves, syringes, catheters and other devices--that interconnect with each other as a plug-and-play system for our different customers," explains Stanger.

Noted for more than its products, Merit Medical has also garnered significant attention for its business practices. Forbes ranked the company among its 200 Best Small Companies in 2001 and 2002; BusinessWeek recently included Merit Medical on its list of 100 Hot Growth Companies; and the July/August 2003 issue of Fortune Small Business listed the company as the 25th Fastest-Growing Small Company in the U.S.

"Our financial performance has been spectacular as of late, and we're thrilled with the recognition," says Stanger, who recalls the company's humble beginnings. "Merit began as a backroom conversation among three partners. We started with nothing."

Luckily for critical care patients worldwide, that "nothing" turned into something.

From catheters to Huber needle safety devices to artery inflation systems, Utah companies have found revolutionary solutions to healthcare problems. These disposable products have become lifesaving "keepers" for the medical industry worldwide. And the success of these companies is due to their pioneering spirit and tenacity in finding a need in the medical community and filling it with their own innovative ideas.

Heather Beers is a Salt Lake City-based freelance writer and co-owner of Momentum Communications.
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Title Annotation:Merit Medical Systems Inc.; Specialized Health Products International Inc.; Utah Medical Products Inc.; Tech Knowledge
Author:Beers, Heather
Publication:Utah Business
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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