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EF: What are the lessons learned during the last year and managing through a pandemic?
JD: I am from the Netherlands, and last year was my first full year in Mexico. Throughout 2021, we learned there were no best practices for managing a Pandemic; every country experienced Covid-19 waves – regardless of the strategy they used. The Mexican government and hospitals, in my opinion, did a remarkable job in responding to the pandemic. In many countries, the healthcare system collapsed, whereas in Mexico City, the city with the highest impact in Mexico, there was strong communication and cooperation between the public and private healthcare sectors. I think prevention is the key takeaway to address future pandemics in Mexico. Diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and diet-based oncology are areas with significant opportunities for healthcare improvement. Unfortunately, the comorbidities and health issues in Mexico catalyzed the effects of the Pandemic. In other countries with lower numbers in obesity, for example, there were fewer deaths by Covid. We work on diagnosis and treatment; and there are many opportunities in Mexico in prevention and education, as 80% of the food culture is responsible for chronic diseases (obesity, cardiovascular diseases). In a country with 130 million people, there are commercial opportunities for an extremely large consumer market, and people mindful of their health. There is an opportunity for the government and the private sector to educate the population. The government shifted its focus to fighting the pandemic, and diagnosis for other diseases fell. After 2 years, and with Omnicron variation being less aggressive than the previous variants, the government and the private sector should focus on infrastructure and prepare for the “next pandemic”: cardiovascular diseases and oncology. Over the last two years, cancer and cardiovascular diseases diagnoses have dropped significantly, not from a lack of cases but because people haven't been diagnosed. These cases will be harder to treat because their disease stage will be far more advanced. Today, many people die of cardiovascular diseases more than from Covid. After Covid is over, it will be interesting to see how governments and the private sector can continue to collaborate on other diseases.
EF: Did you change or introduce new KPIs to adapt to the changing scenario?
JD: Most international companies focus on the same KPIs: sales, margins, market share, and business. We now also focus on employee engagement. The pandemic made employee engagement more important than ever, mainly because employees had to work from home the first year. In Philips, we worked with our teams to ensure fluent communication and working as a team. We addressed this early on, and I am delighted to return to the office at least a few days a week and connect on a personal level again. The pandemic made people rethink what they wanted from life, where they wanted to live, and how to work. If our people are not engaged, we risk losing them, and finding good people is problematic. We have changed the focus from business to people, making sure our employees are engaged and have career paths in Philips because we believe if they are engaged and happy despite the pandemic, it will result in better performance. The biggest challenge we face today is how to connect with people in a remote setting, and our KPIs are focused precisely on that.
EF: How do you keep your employees motivated and engaged?
JD: By being close to people, finding moments to check in with them and find out how they are. Communication and talking to people play a huge role. It was easier before in the office, as you could have a quick talk in person. Calls could be misinterpreted as they were usually used to touch base on urgent matters. We haven't found the perfect recipe yet; it is all about trying and finding the right mix. Fortunately, this year we can have personal events, and in December we had an in-person Christmas event with all the proper Covid protocols.
EF: Does that mean you are aiming towards a hybrid model?
JD: In 2021, tech companies announced going full-time remote for employees who wanted that model. They felt that they could attract more talent and protect their talent from leaving if they offered this. I believe in a working environment where people can collaborate. I want people who want to be with colleagues and who like to interact personally, not those who prefer to work in isolation. We also realized that it might be unnecessary to be in the office five days a week; a lot of work can be better from home. I believe that for meetings and workshops, the in-person approach is optimal. We are going for a hybrid model as soon as the situation allows us to do so. Each role within an organization will have a different mix of in-person and remote work. As we want our teams to feel part of the organization through personal interaction, we encourage them to attend to the office whenever possible. I personally do not believe in a 100% remote model. Even for international teams working remotely, I believe they should get together once or twice a year to get to know each other.
EF: Has there been a shift in your product portfolio during this past year? Do you see any trends for the year?
JD: The digitalization of healthcare and informatics is the most significant change in healthcare recently and will be ongoing for the next five to ten years. The main drivers of this trend are the healthcare system inefficiencies, there are several patients and hospitals, and the data management of patients within hospitals can be improved. We can deliver better healthcare more effectively by shortening the waiting list for specific treatment scans and optimizing the staff and workflow planning, inventory management, and supplies. The trend will be in technology and information management. I am particularly interested in artificial intelligence, as it will be the single biggest opportunity to improve healthcare in the diagnosis and treatment space. Using artificial intelligence, one could identify faster the patients’ pathology, as AI can scan thousands of images of other patients with brain tumours and look for similarities, helping radiologists, oncologists and other specialists by providing them with evidence and an extra tool to check the information they need and act accordingly. The benefits are clear: we can diagnose more patients, quicker, and better. This will reduce waiting lists for CT scans, and reduce the time between symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. The sooner a patient gets treated in oncology and cardiovascular diseases, the bigger the chance of better outcomes.
Previously, depending on the oncologist, different treatment methods (surgery, radiation therapy, and other therapies) could be employed. At Philips, we are using artificial intelligence and informatics to suggest to the treating oncologist what treatment is most likely to be successful based on the patient's data. We help to build a personalized diagnosis by looking at the patient's genomic profile and comparing it to the data of thousands of patients with the same type of cancer and same type genomic profile to see which treatments have been most successful for the profile of the specific patient. This is changing how cancer is being treated, and eventually the same will happen with other diseases. The future of healthcare will be about personalized and data-driven treatments and providing better information to the doctors for them to make better decisions.
EF: Do you think the Mexican market is ready for these changes in terms of physicians understanding their new role and being prepared to incorporate new technologies?
JD: Doctors are ready, and there are examples of hospitals pushing for this. My biggest concern is that decision-makers are not prepared for it. In the public sector, the tenders are designed in a way where the value that these technologies bring can hardly be seen. I see these technologies being adopted in the private sector much faster because artificial intelligence and informatics are more complex to analyze. Companies like Philips and doctors have the responsibility to make the value of technology seen in the public sector, where it is most needed. 80% of the Mexican population gets their healthcare from the public sector.
EF: When you look back at this period in your professional career, how would you like your tenure to be remembered, considering you navigated hard times?
JD: By nature, I am an optimist. I want to be remembered for being an optimist despite the hard times. I like to look forward and think that in 20 years, deaths will occur only because of accidents or from unhealthy living habits. Supposing people live healthily and combining this with quality healthcare, early monitoring and prevention, there is no reason to die from diseases like cancer, cardiovascular diseases, or other chronic diseases. People are responsible for finding a balance that works to live a healthy life. In twenty years, we will no longer blame the health system. Being negative never helped anybody; it won't make the pandemic go away, help your family or make you succeed in your career. I would like to stimulate people to take ownership of their lives. Many people look to others to make life decisions, but they must understand it is their choice. If a person is unhealthy, it results from the choices that person has made. Don't complain, take your life into your own hands and make the decisions you can comfortably live with, and never expect others to make those decisions for you.