2013 marked the 30th anniversary of LoFric® catheters. Over the years, LoFric has become the name synonymous with comfort, safety and trust for self-catheterizers and healthcare professionals alike. And no wonder. Since day one, we’ve listened to the people who use our products and the professionals who recommend them to continually develop products and services that make life easier on everyone. And along the way, raise the standard of care for generations of catheter users and their carers.
LoFric was the world’s first hydrophilic catheter – using water as a lubricant – when it was launched in 1983 by Wellspect HealthCare. It was a big step. With the launch of LoFric catheters with Urotonic™ Surface Technology, we made catheterization easier, more comfortable and less harmful than it had ever been. And, over the years, we have innovated new, more discreet and easier catheters to make life simpler for users (read more about the story of LoFric below).
We are proud of our achievements, but we certainly are not content. If there is a better solution for people who catheterize, or a way we can be even more helpful, we will continue to strive to find it. We made a difference in the last 30 years. And we’ll work even harder over the next 30 years to be the best partner we can be in the health and care of the people and professionals who have put their trust in us.
There are different ways of emptying the bladder. For those who cannot do it the way most people do, and who have to self-catheterize, it mustn’t get in the way of leading a life full of more important activities. The team behind LoFric has always had this in mind and now it has been 30 years since LoFric first started giving its users one less thing to worry about every day.
Before LoFric, in-dwelling catheters were the most common solution for catheterization. Although self-catheterization existed as an alternative, LoFric was the first hydrophilic catheter, which at the time, was a revolution. LoFric replaced the need for inconvenient and less effective gels that were used with older catheters. LoFric ensured minimal friction on the urethra minimizing the risk for damages and infections that had been significant problems with other types of catheters.
Thanks to the passionate work done by Jan Utas, Director of R&D Urology at Wellspect HealthCare and his colleague Håkan Melander, the LoFric catheter came into production - in an old chainsaw factory.
– “When we moved in, one of the rooms was made into a clean room,” says Jan Utas. “But the rest of the building still looked like a chainsaw factory…”
Though the prospect of hydrophilic catheters had been explored in previous years, the research pair’s efforts were the first serious attempt to produce a real, working solution that could be used widely. They experimented continually in the old factory’s newly built laboratory.
“We treated the catheter with different solutions until we got the right coating,” says Jan Utas. “A machine for automatic production of the catheters had already been ordered and was under construction. A few times along the way we realized that we needed to adjust the production process, and had to get the contractor to change the machine accordingly.”
When the machine eventually arrived, in February 1983, the research team practically moved into the production facility for half a year to get production going. Their dedication paid off, and in August that year, LoFric was ready for launch.
Isotonic coating solved the problem
LoFric quickly gained admirers in healthcare, who saw the potential freedom and safety advantages of self-catheterization with a disposable hydrophilic catheter, but there were a few bumps along the way.
As the number of users increased, some of them found that the catheter had a tendency to stick and be difficult to pull out.
“Despite the thorough testing, it was not until there were several hundreds of users that this problem turned up for a few of them,” says Jan Utas. “We suspected it had to do with the osmolality (the concentration of particles in the coating). So we developed a new formulation that made the coating isotonic to urine, and it worked.”
The improved LoFric was received even better. One of the early adopters was Doctor Lars Sullivan at the Sahlgrenska Hospital neurosurgery clinic in Gothenburg. He introduced LoFric to his spinal injury patients, patients who previously had to use in-dwelling catheters, with urine collection bags, that had to be changed by health care staff.
“We wanted to find an alternative to this type of catheter,” says Jan Utas. “Being able to empty the bladder yourself normalizes life in a way by making living with catheterization less of an issue. With LoFric, the patient can self-catheterize five times a day just like you would normally urinate five times a day.”
Those early LoFric catheters and the LoFric catheters of today still have that special tube coating in common. But a lot has happened since then. The most obvious is that LoFric is no longer only one catheter – it is a whole family of catheters that offers a solution for almost every user need.
The development of the LoFric family over the years was done in close collaboration with medical professionals and users.
“And development will surely continue,” says Jan Utas. “There is always room for improvement. We are continually working to improve ease of use and we try to push the limit for how impaired person can be and still be able to self-catheterize. The easier the package is to open, for instance, the more people will be able to benefit from LoFric. At the same time, we can’t compromise in a way that interferes with the other really tough demands on the package, such as staying sterile and protecting the product for at least three years.”
“We also want to make the package to look nice. If a LoFric slips out of a user’s handbag it shouldn’t be obvious that it is a catheter. And with LoFric Sense and LoFric Origo, I think we have come a long way.”
Different kinds of aids to make LoFric easier to handle for users with special needs is also an area of ongoing development.
“The ideal thing would be to make individually adjusted products for each user,” says Jan Utas. “Unfortunately that would be too costly. Everybody needs to cut costs, especially in healthcare, and keeping the price down enables more people to use LoFric. For that reason we are also always looking for ways to improve the production process and make it simpler and less costly. We do produce and distribute handling aids that were developed based on user and professional feedback – and if we find other ways to be helpful, we’ll pursue them.”
Another way LoFric continues to improve is in the area of environment.
“We want our materials for both catheter and packaging to be as environmentally-friendly as possible,” say Jan Utas. “For safety reasons, we don’t use recycled material in anything that comes into contact with the catheter, but the transport boxes they come in can be recycled. We have also developed a new catheter material, POBE (PolyOlefin Based Elastomer), which doesn’t leave anything but water and carbon dioxide when combusted.”
Before the technique to catheterize developed, people with spinal injuries often died from kidney damage. During the 20th century, their life expectancy has gradually increased, in no small part due to self-catheterization, and the improved quality of catheters. Now the difference in life expectancy between people with and without spinal injuries is very small.
“I think that everyone who works with LoFric is proud to be part of that progress. To work with something that is so important medically and at the same time can make everyday life easier, can contribute to a higher quality of life for people… I find it very rewarding.”
LoFric® is the registered trademark of Wellspect HealthCare.
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