Leaning into change
It took a pandemic to break down barriers to innovation. Is this wave of ingenuity here to stay?
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Lights from Tokyo’s Shibuya Crossing and New York’s Times Square pulse to empty streets and echoes of ambulance sirens. The bustle of workplaces and neighborhood school yards remain quiet as we retreat to makeshift home offices and improvised virtual classrooms. Sheltering in place feels like the world is on pause — but that is far from the truth.
Spelled out in lights on the Eiffel Tower, “merci” glows brightly. But few see the dazzling homage to healthcare workers. No mobs of springtime tourists descend upon Paris. Yet, emergency responder sirens shriek louder, hospital emergency care employees have never been more active, and the shuttered cafes and an empty Champs-Elysées remind us daily of a transformed city.1
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.- Albert Einstein
No individual, industry, or country was ready for coronavirus. Traditional systems continue to buckle under the strains of disruption, forcing years of change in a matter of months. Every day, doctors and nurses don their armor of latex, plexiglass, and cotton. They're backed by supporters big and small: from manufacturing and healthcare companies, to parents-turned-mask-makers, and 3D printing entrepreneurs.
Like many large companies, we often measure breakthrough ideas at Medtronic in months or years. But this virus quickly became a catalyst for remarkable change. It showed us we could contribute to human welfare in even greater ways than we thought possible. We joined forces with other technology companies and unlikely partners. We combined resources and expertise. And we weren’t alone in our ingenuity — fashion chains started designing personal protective equipment and companies around the globe began manufacturing ventilators.
Earl’s story: Rising to the challenge
Earl Bakken co-founded Medtronic in a Minnesota garage to repair medical equipment. But following a hospital blackout in 1957, it was clear he was destined to do more. During the power outage, a surgeon at a local hospital lost a young patient on a pacemaker, which at the time was a large cart-like device attached to the wall. The doctor asked Earl to come up with a solution. Inspired and empowered, he delivered the world’s first battery-powered pacemaker — about the size of a few decks of cards — in just under a month. A company built on purpose-driven innovation, and a timeless Mission, was born.
I’ve learned that we can move with speed, with clarity, and with impact when we’re in a crisis. The walls of our organisational structure come down, the sense of urgency goes up, and our collaborative spirit takes over to solve problems for our customers.– Geoff Martha, Chief Executive Officer, Medtronic
Before coronavirus, hospital systems and health insurance companies were slow to adopt telehealth solutions. But in just a few short weeks, it became the new norm. Medtronic quickly adapted its home-based remote monitoring platforms — typically used to manage those with chronic conditions — so healthcare professionals could remotely assess, monitor, and triage patients experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. This helped keep at-risk patients safe at home and tempered the demand on the healthcare system.
At the same time, patients with chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease were quickly transitioned to telehealth visits. This allowed them to be monitored through their medical devices from the safety of their homes.
The critical need to limit exposure to the virus — for patients and for those on the frontlines around the world — demanded a rapid shift in perspective. Everything changed because it had to. But it shouldn’t take a global crisis to spur progress. Could we have done more sooner? Were we standing in our own way? In a post-coronavirus world, what is our responsibility to proactively change? As SARS taught us, the disease is only the beginning. Hospital systems will need to keep adapting, working to build remote systems, reorganising wards, and figuring out how to make the public feel safe enough to come in.
At a distance
Coronavirus created many opportunities for change, forcing us to ask ourselves what can be done from a safe distance to protect patients, doctors, nurses, and our employees. Remote patient monitoring and device programming is one answer. Recently, doctors at Ohio State University’s Wexler Medical Center implanted one of our pacemakers, which was programmed by one of our technicians located outside of the operating room. We also developed remote management capabilities for our most advanced ventilator, so it could be monitored from outside of a patient’s room. This helped reduce healthcare worker exposure to the virus. Without a doubt, there will be problems to solve in the days ahead. Yet there will also be endless opportunities for technology and the Medtronic Mission to triumph.
The only way through this is a path yet to be laid out. A journey that inspires, motivates, and sometimes overwhelms us. But we continue to seek a way forward. Right now, we are facing a global humanitarian challenge and beating the coronavirus is our biggest priority. And when we do, those leading with purpose and breaking down barriers to innovation will emerge as more courageous partners in a more connected, compassionate world.
Morton, C. Photos of Paris During Coronavirus, From Empty Streets to Messages of Hope on the Eiffel Tower. Conde Nast Traveler website. https://www.cntraveler.com/gallery/photos-of-paris-during-coronavirus-from-empty-streets-to-messages-of-hope-on-the-eiffel-tower. April 20, 2020. Accessed May 20, 2020.