When Jeff Haines and his business partner, Tracy Grim, started Ovation Medical in 2010, it was like getting the old band back together. The two had collaborated successfully for years at Royce Medical before Haines sold the company to Ossur in 2005. The five-year hiatus left both men itching to get back into the business, however, and Ovation, based in Agoura Hills, CA, has already brought several innovations to market. There are more in the pipeline, according to Haines, Ovation’s chief executive officer.
“Our business model has always been to focus on the relationship between doctors and their patients,” he said. “Tracy has roughly ten mechanical and design engineers working for him now, and he’s a perfectionist about the process. We feel that you have one chance to launch a product properly—something that works right and has a superior design—so we sometimes take longer than we should.”
Ovation sells an assortment of walkers, splints, braces, and supports. Many of these are versions of devices already on the market, but two are particularly novel, Haines said.
The company’s new Ovation Walker offers several new design features, for example, including significantly lighter weight than competing models and a unique sole design.
“We call it an intuitive sole,” Haines said. “Historically, walkers have all had rocker bottoms from heel to toe, but they haven’t offered a fluid side-to-side motion, which better accommodates individual gait patterns.”
The walker’s upright struts are unusual, as well; they flare out at the top so they don’t pinch the calf.
“They’re a much better anatomical fit, and to the wearer, that’s a big deal,” Haines explained. “When you wear the walker, you feel the difference immediately, in just a few steps. You also notice its lightness—it’s half a pound lighter than similar models—and its low profile. It’s tailored to fit better behind the heel, around the malleoli, and up and down the calves.”
According to Haines, clinicians have been quick to notice the walker’s qualities, and even though it was launched only in 2011, it’s already become a best seller.
“When people use it, they appreciate it, and they don’t want to go back,” he said.
The other singular product of which Haines is particularly proud is Ovation’s Hybrid night splint, which is designed to address the well-known shortfalls of existing models. Among these are the poor patient compliance associated with posterior designs and the questionable efficacy of dorsal ones, according to Haines.
“Posterior splints actually work, but it’s very difficult to get patients to wear them,” he said. “Most people can’t sleep with them on, so the splints end up in a closet. Podiatrists all know this—it’s a dirty little secret in the industry.”
Dorsal designs are relatively comfortable, by contrast, but in Haines’s view they don’t work as well as posterior designs, if they work at all. As a result, they end up stuffed in the closet, as well.
The issue was clear: patients could freely choose which version not to wear. Ovation’s Hybrid is designed to address that conundrum at its root.
“Doctors have had lousy options for a long time,” Haines said. “The Hybrid is adjustable, which is a big deal, because we’re combining the functional brace with one that will actually let you sleep.”
The brace contains a forefoot hinge, so that, as the wearer pulls up on an ankle strap, the front elevates, raising the forefoot.
“Some fasciitis patients can tolerate more stretch than others,” Haines noted. “It’s empowering to have control over your own therapy; this design is simple and intuitive, and it works. The patients end up selling the doctors on these because they are finally getting both compliance and function, so they’re getting results.”
The Ovation Hybrid splint, like the company’s walker, has quickly become a fast seller since its launch about a year ago.
Haines attributes his serial successes to his team’s approach to R&D. He, Grim, and the company’s engineers consult the clinical community beginning very early in the process. The feedback they get helps shape the development of new products.
“We learned this in the 1980s, because when we didn’t do that, we made mistakes,” Haines acknowledged. “We launched a couple of products, and the doctors said, ‘Nice try, but you missed this and this.’ And we realized it’s not rocket science: you have to go talk to them first.”
Haines deflects the lion’s share of the credit to Grim.
“He’s very creative, and his engineers work in an environment that caters to creativity and is very connected to the market,” he said. “We want our R&D program to be customer-driven, because we believe strongly in the need to focus on what is ultimately going to please both the patient and the doctor. That is what will drive our success.”
Cary Groner is a freelance writer in the San Francisco Bay area.