Read the Conversation
EF: We call 2020 the year of diagnostics and 2021 the year of vaccines. When we look back, what will 2022 be remembered for?
AS: Many conditions and operations were put on hold during the pandemic, and many investments went into covid diagnostics and vaccines, which delayed preventative care. Several patients with chronic and non-communicable diseases were too afraid to seek treatment, which worsened their prognosis. This is why 2022 will be the year of recovery. This year was about restoring patient confidence to return to healthcare treatment and preventative care. Everything is on an accelerated track to compensate for the past two years. Patient volume has begun to peak, several specialization centres have reopened, and focus areas have shifted. The pandemic's silver lining is the progress we have made in telehealth and remote monitoring.
EF: What attracted you to join Medtronic?
AS: The medical industry is driven by purpose and patient-centricity, but Medtronic takes these to a new level. Our mission is so ingrained in our work culture that everything is amplified. Our promise is ‘engineering the extraordinary.’ Our employees and everyone at the company's frontline, like our sales force and marketing team, are motivated and energized by the mission.
We are patient-centric in everything we do, from logistics to pricing our products to the minute decisions we make daily. We opened an IP for ventilators during the pandemic because of the supply shortage. We knew that no company would be able to single-handedly meet the demand, which is why we sought out collaborations.
Medtronic’s portfolio was another attraction point for me. Their portfolio is revolutionary, especially with the fast pace that technology is evolving. They are ahead of the curve, which made me want to be a part of a company that thinks forward and evolves. Technology is advancing rapidly, and even though we are just at the beginning, I am excited to see what artificial intelligence and self-learning systems can do for our industry and patients. We are creating more personalized and predictive care.
EF: What is Medtronic's footprint in Colombia, and how do you expect it to evolve in the coming years?
AS: Colombia is part of Central Latin America – one of four clusters in Latin America. Central Latin America includes Ecuador, Venezuela, and all the Caribbean islands. Within the cluster, there are two big operation centres. Colombia generates 50% of the cluster’s revenue. The second is Puerto Rico which accounts for 35% of revenue, while the other countries generate the remaining 20%.
We have twelve manufacturing sites in Latin America. Some of our key global manufacturing plants are in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Four are in Puerto Rico, and one is in the Dominican Republic. They are big manufacturing sites with over 10,000 employees and products globally. We have an excellent commercial footprint with direct sales in Colombia and Puerto Rico. We sell mostly through distributors in Ecuador, Venezuela, and Caribbean Islands. We have a shared service based in Colombia, serving Canada, the US, and Latin America. We also have commercial offices in Colombia with more than 500 full-time employees. Our strategy is to address geographical and access barriers by supporting and partnering with hospitals from second and third-tier cities that are growing their capacity and extending their operations into higher-complexity therapies and treatments. By prioritizing this, we will ensure quality healthcare and increased access to all populations.
EF: What is the strategic significance of Colombia to Medtronic as a global group, and how do you pitch to headquarters to gain resources in Colombia?
AS: Colombia is one of the most developed markets in Latin America because of the healthcare system here. 96% of the population is covered, which is one of the best medical insurance coverages in the world. Colombia has one of the highest sales per capita, especially in medical devices for Medtronic. It is the first country in Latin America where all our therapies are covered with the same reimbursement plan. This drives the opportunity to bring the latest technology here. We have such a big market here that, at one point, we were selling more here than in Brazil. We do not use distributors in Colombia because we can go directly to our customers, with more than 96% of our sales being direct sales. The opportunities that come from it reflect why many multinationals choose it as a hub.
Colombia has highly skilled labour. This factor alone attracts a lot of investments. We have 1,000 employees in the shared service offices, which is a separate legal entity and organization that provides services in everything from the supply chain, logistics, quality, and finances to the whole of Latin America. It is not difficult for us to secure funding because Colombia is one of our most developed markets and is always at the forefront. For medical devices, we use many proctors- doctors trained to train other doctors. Colombia has the highest number of trained proctors who train the rest of Latin America.
EF: What is your view on Colombia's healthcare system, and how is Medtronic contributing to making the healthcare ecosystem more sustainable?
AS: Colombia is one of the most advanced ecosystems in Latin America. There are areas where the systems in place are fully developed and fully accessible to everyone, and there are areas that do not have the same access. We work on market access because this is where we make a big difference. We increase access and equity of access. We are working on bringing access to every single patient.
Even in well-established markets and places like Bogota, some therapies have gaps. Stroke is one of those areas. Patients do not know or recognize stroke symptoms. Most people go to the nearest clinic or hospital when they are experiencing a stroke instead of a specialized hospital. Every minute of a stroke count; the more you delay, the more damage is done. To expand awareness and access to diseases like stroke, we focus on partnerships with the government and hospitals to ensure specialized hospitals are certified and have the right technologies, systems and processes to treat stroke.
We help hospitals get certified by the world stroke organization so that hospitals have the systems and processes in place to be able to handle stroke patients. We work with the government to increase stroke awareness and stroke centres. We are working on training healthcare professionals to have systems in place to respond immediately if a stroke patient is wheeled into their hospital. There is a good healthcare infrastructure in Colombia. It is about expanding access, coverage, and knowledge in general and key therapies and conditions.
EF: What other key therapy areas are you assisting in preventing and diagnosing non-communicable diseases, and how is the Medtronic portfolio adapting?
AS: Medtronic is the number one MedTech company in the world. We have a broad portfolio with over 16,000 products featured in Latin America alone. Our portfolio in Colombia and Latin America is bundled into three key areas: the OR, ICU unit, the Cath Lab, and Accelerating Technologies.
The OR ICU portfolio boasts several surgical instruments, equipment, and devices. Within this unit, we are training more surgeons and doctors in minimally invasive surgery when treating or administering treatment to a patient. The second unit and portfolio is the Cath lab which covers cardiovascular therapies. It contains tools and equipment needed by cardiovascular patients, like pacemakers, stents, cryoablation, and several other devices. We are focused on implementing new emerging technologies to save people’s lives. Stroke is one of the key areas we are looking to improve.
The third one is called accelerating technologies, including unique products for diabetes and devices for brain stimulation, pelvic health, gastrointestinal, ear-nose-throat conditions, and many more. Because colon and rectal cancer are on the rise, we want to speed up the diagnosis and treatment for those areas, which is why it is something we have started focusing on recently. We are working on increasing access to therapies like insulin pumps.
We have a system called Carelink that combines cardio and accelerating technologies. Carelink remotely tracks patients with certain conditions, like a person with a pacemaker, and displays the data to the doctor in real-time. Doctors can identify irregularities and react quickly.
We want to promote the use of non-invasive surgeries over invasive surgeries, which are still very common today. We are training thousands of physicians in safe surgical procedures for inpatient treatment using the newest technology. After the pandemic, we are reimagining our technologies to solve unmet patient and healthcare needs.
EF: How is AI progressing, and when can we begin to see the results of artificial intelligence in your region? And how do you think physicians will adopt it?
AS: We have excellent institutions in Colombia, so adoption is not the issue. We work with hospitals to provide the best possible patient care. In the last week of November and the first days of December, we will host a summit for key opinion leaders and doctors to see our whole portfolio. It is an educational event for doctors.
As for products like c-suites, hospitals are willing to pay to bring products from outside to Colombia. The demand for AI is there. AI's practical use case determines which products we get back to Colombia.
Recently we launched a new insulin pump that monitors glucose levels. It is easy to use and can be used through a cell phone application. Doctors can use this information to moderate, regulate, and see if the treatment works for the patient. It is a step in the right direction in creating personalized treatments. The more data we have, the more we can unlock improvements we can make and the more we can learn to better tailor therapies to the patients. All this information helps us improve the next generation of products.
Robotics is the future. The Hugo system is in Chile, Panama, and Europe but not yet in Colombia. This robot-assisted system is for soft tissue surgery. With the help of the robotic arm, surgeries will become less invasive and safer. The input from the doctors using the system help us gather information on how to keep improving our systems.
AI can improve doctors' and patients' experience. It helps with innovation, meaning the next generation of products will improve because of the data collected. We have an endoscopic capsule with a camera that captures hundreds of pictures from multiple angles inside the body. This camera improves diagnosis and enhances the patient's overall experience, which is the main goal. It is less invasive, more targeted, and improves diagnosis and treatments delivering better outcomes. With technology, people do not need to attend several seminars to understand such surgical technology; instead, they can purchase it and get in-house training. Unfortunately, this technology has yet to be in Colombia. Using this technology at full capacity in the OR requires extensive training, so we are introducing it one country at a time.
EF: What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow your path to becoming a successful leader?
AS: Diversity is inbuilt into the work culture at Medtronic. There are several opportunities and employee groups that empower people. The company avails of many resources and networks to help women advance. The Colombian branch is significantly ahead of Medtronic's overall target. The target is upward of 45% of women in leadership positions from managers. In Colombia, 50% of the leadership roles are filled by women. There are a lot of empowered and brilliant women leading the company.
My advice to young leaders is to learn the ability to take risks. It would be best if you took risks in your career, professional, and personal life. People learn the most when they are out of their comfort zone. I have failed many times in many things and learned from my failures. Question and challenge yourself to go beyond the limit.
The second piece of advice is to have the willingness to learn continuously. I gained a lot of experience within the sector by being willing to learn and learn from different areas. You will not learn anything new if you do the same thing repeatedly. To progress in your career and become a better leader, you need to keep learning not only in your professional life but also in your personal life. Learn something new (language, hobby), and meet people different from you. Doing this will expose you to other realities and different ways of thinking, helping you become a better professional.
Supporting and sponsoring each other is very important. I am not from Colombia and have no experience in the Medtech industry, but Medtronic Colombia hired me. I am here because of the people who sponsored, coached and mentored me. They supported me and allowed me to grow. As women, if we want to grow, we must help others succeed. I am a perfect example of how empowering others empowers you.