OIM Orthopedics is one of the largest players in the field of suppliers of prostheses and orthoses in the Netherlands. The company has had a considerable growth curve since its foundation in 1981. According to financial director Fokke Boomsma, this growth not only brings benefits in terms of purchasing, but also increases the power of action of insurers. And that makes it just that little bit easier to operate in the complex field of orthopaedics. Standard ICT applications support growth and make innovations possible.
“A prosthesis is an attachment that replaces a body part, think of an artificial arm or leg. An orthosis supports the body – like a brace or splint,” explains Boomsma. “At OIM we make both. We also make orthopaedic shoes, soles and cold supports. Our goal is to make sure that our customers can live the way they want, despite their physical limitations”. Originally, OIM did this in the northeast of the Netherlands, but after a number of takeovers, the company is present throughout the country: from Den Helder to Maastricht. Boomsma: “That growth was necessary in order to be a stronger player in the sector. Thanks to our size, we can now carry more weight”.
Between three fires
OIM operates in a complex playing field. In the development of an artificial arm, for example, no less than four parties are involved – each with its own interests. Boomsma: “In the first place, of course, you have the customer, who has certain wishes. Someone wants to be able to work, play sports or travel. Then there is often a doctor who makes recommendations based on medical knowledge, where functionality and comfort for the customer are paramount. And then there are the insurers, who try to keep the costs of prostheses and orthoses as low as possible. This is where we come in. A tough position at times, because the interests of customers and doctors on the one hand and insurers on the other sometimes seem to clash”.
Size does matter
In practice, this means that OIM specialists often develop high-quality products for a fixed fee. Boomsma: “We are always looking for the balance between what a customer needs to be able to live freely and what the insurer can reimburse. In doing so, we work hard for the customer’s interests. For example, it is possible to make an artificial hand that is identical to someone’s natural hand, including veins, freckles and birthmarks. Such a hand is of course more expensive than a purely functional prosthesis. You understand that insurers will initially focus on the latter. But if we demonstrate that the aesthetic hand significantly improves a customer’s life, we may be able to convince the insurer. In such situations, it helps that we are a big party. Because of our size, we are taken more seriously”.
Connecting with science
In addition, OIM tries to strengthen its authority by linking up with scientific research. The company cooperates with the University of Leiden and the University of Groningen, among others. Boomsma: “Although we do not make high-tech prostheses, such as advanced robot knees, we want to take our professional knowledge to an even higher level. We supply prostheses and orthoses with which the research teams can experiment, but we also participate in studies into, for example, gait techniques and the movement of gears. In this way, we keep abreast of new insights that are important to our profession. The result is that we can serve our clients better, but also that we can bring in more knowledge in discussions with insurers”.
Harmonisation via a solid standard
Nevertheless, it remains a challenge to find the balance between optimal products and rising costs. An IT project with Broad Horizon gives the OIM specialists room to work more effectively. Because the less time employees spend on mutual communication and administrative tasks, the more time they have left for their real work. Boomsma: “We have just started a large-scale harmonisation: all our branches have to work with the same system. As a result of our takeovers, we have built up a fairly diverse IT portfolio. Every system in this portfolio is nice and good, but if we want to work together efficiently, we have to move towards a standard. We will now link all our branches to a Microsoft platform.
It has to be done in the fitting room
Once that has been done, it will be possible to innovate a great deal, Boomsma expects. Right into the fitting room – that’s the name of the room where customers get their new artificial leg or shoulder brace fitted. Boomsma: “Where we used to make physical moulds and models, we now use digital configuration models as the basis for our products. We want our specialists to be able to make such a model in the fitting room. On a tablet, where all material choices are automatically calculated”. After all, Boomsma explains: “It’s not possible to just put one foot under one’s knee at random. “When you make a prosthesis, every choice has consequences. For example, for the pressure exerted on a joint. Now we still make these calculations after the fitting moment. If we bring this step forward in the process, we can save a lot of time. What’s more, it will improve our service.
Creativity overcomes everything
Enough plans, but first some obstacles have to be overcome. Boomsma: “In order to be able to work effectively with these configuration tools, we need internet via fibre optics. In some locations we can simply install that, but many of our branches are located in the building near a hospital or rehabilitation centre. This is logical, because we want to be close to our customers. We can’t just drill holes in the wall everywhere. We often have to put the physical infrastructure in order before we can implement our new software solutions. On the other hand, coming up with solutions for things that seem difficult or impossible is part of our job. So here too, we find something.