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JAS News: Dr. Peter Bonutti Shares Ways to Balance Clinical Work and Product Development


10/6/2015 -
reprint from ORTHOPRENEUR

Peter Bonutti, M.D. is an orthopaedic joint reconstructive surgeon specializing in hip, knee and shoulder arthroplasty and arthroscopy. Beyond the practice of medicine, he has contributed to patient care through involvement in product development (working with companies like ArthroCare, Biomet, Medtronic and Stryker, to name a few) and starting his own company, Bonutti Technologies. He also founded The Bonutti Clinic in 1989 in Effingham, Illinois, which houses its own research center, Bonutti Research.

ORTHOPRENEUR spoke to Bonutti to discuss what he’s learned from his entrepreneurial endeavors.

ORTHOPRENEUR: What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome when you started The Bonutti Clinic?

DR. BONUTTI: I was originally going to be an academic orthopaedic surgeon; I had a number of university offers. But I wanted to develop a subspecialty musculoskeletal center in a rural environment, adding basic and applied research. My challenge was integrating the two: starting in practice by myself and starting from scratch in a rural environment. I went to a town of 12,000 people, bought a research facility (Cleveland Research Facility) and moved it there. I started a clinical practice and a research institute at the same time. It was challenging both from a personal and financial perspective, but 26 years later we’ve been able to grow. We have six physicians, a diagnostic center, a musculoskeletal center and an applied research center, which has nearly 500 patents and patent applications. We’ve designed and developed for a number of companies, as well as three start-ups that we developed ourselves. It’s been a challenge, but that’s where I started, then grew from there. It’s been fairly successful both as a clinical practice as well as a research facility.

ORTHOPRENEUR: What about developing your company, Bonutti Technologies, and some of your products—what were the challenges there?

DR. BONUTTI: First was refining the technologies. The second was bringing young engineers and researchers to come work in a small, rural area. We were able to do that by bringing some people back to their original home towns, and moving others in from larger urban areas. Then we needed the support staff required to grow the businesses as well as develop the marketing and sales aspects. We now sell products in six countries, with an independent sales network. Developing the company in a rural area where the talent wasn’t initially there was challenging. But now we’ve developed a core group of people as far away as Vancouver, to individuals who were born and raised locally whom we were able to attract back to the area. 

Other hurdles were acquiring the right technology and equipment – making it and moving it to the facility. We have a 35,000-square-foot facility where we do our design and development work. We’re continuing to work to bring the right people together and get the right equipment to expand our footprint.

ORTHOPRENEUR: How did you manage to accomplish all of this? What were some of the steps you took?

DR. BONUTTI: A lot of work – I worked seven days a week for a long time; I didn’t get married until I was 45. I spent most of my time working on developing these different technologies over a long period of time. I had assistance from my brother; he’s an operational guy, which freed me up to design and develop. I was fortunate to work with companies such as Stryker and Biomet and others, and I learned a lot. A key person who gave me guidance was Art Steffee, M.D. Art developed pedicle fixation for spine for a company called AcroMed, which is now DePuy Synthes Spine. He taught me a lot about innovation. I ended up buying the Cleveland Research Institute where he was working and that was also what helped motivate me to show that individuals, even in small areas, can design, develop and create new technologies that are valuable. You just have to invest your time and your own funds and be persistent, because many of the technologies took at least ten years or so to bear fruit. You have to think long-range. It’s not a quick fix or a short turnaround; you have to really invest in the long-term, not just in the patents, but in developing the technology and then working with companies. It’s a long haul. Also, if you invest in yourself, then others will also.

: How do you balance your different involvements?

DR. BONUTTI: You have to have a great support staff: in-house IP attorneys, in-house business management and operations, as well as excellent engineers and researchers. That helps substantially. You have to be organized, have a method and a process to approach ideas, technologies and developments. It’s persistence. It’s having the right people around you. It’s investing your time. I’ve been lucky, successful and pleased with my results;we’ve been able to make a footprint and help improve the quality of orthopaedic care as well. I still remain a busy surgeon. I still do over 500 joints a year and close to 800-900 surgical procedures a year. I enjoy being an orthopaedic surgeon – I enjoy what I’m doing, so I guess that helps.

ORTHOPRENEUR: What are some of the biggest changes taking place in the orthopaedic industry, and how can orthopaedic surgeons come out on top in the face of these changes?

DR. BONUTTI: The drive for less invasive procedures, outpatient surgeries, pain management and faster recovery. Robotics are coming to the forefront; these also enable less invasive and more rapid recoveries. The direction and focus is toward improving patient’s perceptions of quality of care. 

To stay ahead, what’s really important is to listen to patient’s requests and develop practices that are centered on patient perceptions of quality, not just physicians’ and surgeons’ perceptions. We all have ideas of what a knee replacement should do, or what rotator cuff results or arthroscopic procedures results should be from a surgeon’s perspective, but we also need to listen to our patients. If you can develop techniques and technologies that address patients’ concerns, you’ll offer value and quality and meet patients’ expectations. If you can do both, I think you can develop a successful practice. 

Hannah Corcoran is Editorial & Media Assistant at ORTHOWORLD. She can be reached by email: hannah@orthoworld.com