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Tippie MBA Students To Develop Marketing Plan for Ponseti Clubfoot Treatment

A group of graduate marketing students in the University of Iowa's Tippie School of Management will spend the fall semester developing a marketing plan for the revolutionary clubfoot treatment designed by Ignacio Ponseti, M.D.

Letting more people know about the Ponseti method will be one topic of discussion when health care professionals from around the world will gather at the University of Iowa Sept. 12 to 14 to discuss the treatment designed by the University of Iowa professor of orthopaedics. In particular, they will discuss how to increase the method's usage in developing nations.

"The Ponseti method is widely known as the most effective technique for fixing clubfoot, yet few children who suffer from the deformity in developing countries receive the treatment," said John Murry, a professor of marketing in the Tippie College of Business.

The five marketing students are part of Murry's field study marketing class in the Tippie MBA Fulltime program. They plan to spend part of the fall semester polling and interviewing health care providers in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, to find out how clubfoot treatment can be brought to more children.

"The procedure is demonstrated to be more effective and efficient than surgical alternatives and seems to have few barriers to being widely accepted, yet it's still unknown in many places," said Murry. "So that's the first question we have to answer&emdash;why isn't it more widely understood and used?"

The Ponseti method is named after Ponseti, who developed the non-surgical treatment for clubfoot more than 50 years ago when he was a professor of orthopaedics at the University of Iowa College of Medicine. His method involves gentle, manual manipulation of the child's foot and application of toe-to-groin plaster casts. The casts are changed weekly after a clinician manipulates softened foot ligaments to gradually achieve near-normal muscle and bone alignment.

Despite the success of Ponseti's method, surgery remained the preferred treatment among orthopedic specialists for decades. However, research showed that people who underwent surgical correction of clubfoot as children often experienced stiff, painful feet as young adults, severely limiting their mobility and adversely affecting their quality of life.

Murry said the marketing plan developed for India can serve as a model for bringing to the Ponseti method to other parts of the developing world. "Once we understand why it hasn't gained wide acceptance in India, we will develop a marketing plan that also might have implications for reaching doctors and health care providers in other parts of Asia, Africa, or South America," said Murry.

The class is working with the UI-based Ponseti International Association for the Advancement of Clubfoot Treatment to develop the plan. Dr. Jose Morcuende, president of the association, hopes marketing will be an effective way to raise awareness of the Ponseti method.

"Introducing marketing concepts into an overall outreach strategy for a method like this is unique in health care, and it's an important way to spread the message to not only doctors, but the public, ministers of health, insurance companies, and other important audiences," said Morcuende, who is also associate professor of orthopaedics at the UI's Carver College of Medicine.

One of the students taking the class is Adnan Fazal, a second-year Tippie MBA student. He said he jumped at the chance to participate in a hands-on global market research project, and to help people with clubfoot get the treatment they need.

"It's a great opportunity to apply the skills we're learning in class to a real life situation, but it's also a huge opportunity to make a difference in the world and improve the lives of so many children," said Fazal, who is also a student in the Master's in Health Administration program in the College of Public Health. "We talk about how important it is for us to make the world better, but we don't get that many chances to affect the lives of so many people on a global basis this often."

Morcuende said Ponseti's method has numerous advantages to traditional surgical techniques: it has a higher success rate at a lower expense, as the treatment is successful more than 95 percent of the time and costs only about $100 per patient in developing countries; it can be administered by people who are not medical doctors, making it more widely available; and it requires less infrastructure than surgery, such as a hospital, clinic or other sterile setting.

"It's a perfect method for use in developing countries, which makes it more important for us to spread our message," Morcuende said.

Murry said his students will spend the semester phoning health care professionals, government officials, and international agency officials working in India to ask them about their knowledge and use of the Ponesti method. At the end of the semester, class members will present a report to the Ponseti International board explaining the resistance to the method and recommending a strategy to increase its usage.

"We'll identify what messages we need to transmit to the various health care providers, government officials, and international agency officials working in those countries," said Murry. "For instance, it could be that health care professionals there have simply never heard of the technique. If that's the case, our plan might suggest an emphasis on providing greater education and training opportunities."

Fazal said the class hopes to make the Ponseti methed a recognized brand that brings recognition to Ponseti and the University of Iowa.

"He's an amazing person and the chance to be associated with him like this is wonderful," he said.

Ponseti, 94, continues to see patients and teach his technique as an emeritus professor of orthopedics in the Carver College of Medicine.

The Ponseti symposium will be held Sept. 12 to 14 at the Marriott Coralville Hotel and Convention Center and is sponsored by the National Institute of Health, the University of Iowa, and the Ponseti International Association for the Advancement of Clubfoot Treatment, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among others.

More information on the symposium can be found on the Web at www.itreoh.org/clubfoot.


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