Read the Conversation

EF: 2020 was the year of diagnostics, and 2021 was the year of vaccines; what do you think 2022 will bring?

PM: We will probably achieve a post-Covid degree of normality. The third wave wasn't as impactful in South Africa as the first and second waves; there were fewer hospitalizations, fewer restrictions in terms of access, fewer deaths, and the hospitals could pursue non-Covid cases. We have seen a worldwide effort to get back to normal; Covid has altered the behaviour of many companies, for instance, working three days in the office and two from home, although we will always have people working from our offices. Nobody was prepared for the pandemic, and we had to adapt to a new digital world that seems to be on steroids, and we are no exception. We have put out platforms we already had but never used much until the pandemic. I asked my executive team to read the book "Goliath's Revenge," telling the story about big companies coming back. The story goes back to the fight between David and Goliath in the Bible, basically big guy is defeated by the small guy. In Goliath's Revenge, it explains how big companies which used to suffer from small companies using digital muscle and taking the business away from them are taking the power back. I see 2022 as the beginning of a new era. Big companies like Medtronic are fast-tracking the adoption of digitalization and related technologies to be nimbler and more efficient. In our case about 95  to 97 % of our implanted devices can be connected, accessed and programmed remotely; pre-pandemic, this was optional, but Covid made it a must. Our remote sales teams use technology efficiently to demonstrate, educate and showcase products to our customers and our patients. The healthcare support systems can connect to patients remotely without them having to come into the hospital and medical centres whenever they need devices to be calibrated and monitored. Covid created new roles, new positions and even new businesses. in Medtronic now we have a new division called Virtual Engagement Solutions headed by a digitalization leader.  

EF: What is your advice to other managers or leaders on managing a pandemic?  

PM: I have learned that it is better to show empathy, and be more supportive and understanding to people in different situations and environments during the pandemic. People went through very tough times and coped differently. As leaders, we have to be supportive and empathize with team members, partners, and collaborators. We did what we could, offering support and solutions remotely; for example, we sent the employees small cakes and shared them in front of the camera -small gestures for them to feel connected and supported. By working remotely, Covid has forced us to reexamine the existing structures, particularly during the pandemic, we worked very long hours, and the change had a negative impact on employees' mental health. Coming back to the office, some people's confidence levels are low as a consequence of having less interaction in a business environment, affecting the social and emotional aspects of work. After a year of working remotely and in lockdown, there has been a generally negative impact in the world in the form of mental illness, depression, and anxiety, affecting people's confidence and social capabilities while increasing their technical skills.

EF: Do you think people are more aware of their health due to the pandemic?

PM: I think there is greater awareness of health than before. The Covid pandemic accelerated the population's health education, now people use more supplements and vitamins, and there was more awareness of making their bodies stronger to face the impact of the pandemic. There were more positive lessons learned from the pandemic as far as health and wellness are concerned. Even though people are now more aware of their general health, mental health should also be a priority now. Having had to go remote so quickly and returning to an office environment has been hard on some of our employees. We have been listening, observing and giving a lot of support; for example, we now start meetings at 9 am to give people more time to prepare before they start work. Mental health in particular has become a central issue and as a company, we ensure that our employees have adequate support with initiatives such as our ‘No Meeting Friday’ policy and a wellness support line.  

EF: Could you elaborate on the adoption of digitalization and technology in South Africa?  

PM: The ability to monitor, calibrate and support patients remotely instead of having patients and healthcare workers coming into the clinic/hospital put digitalization on steroids and make things easier. Digitalization, e-commerce, and virtual business are new ways of doing things daily. It's the basic way of working now. Even those who are slow on change will adapt; the environment has moved into an adoption stage.  

EF: What is the role of medical technology regarding access in South Africa?  

PM: Medical technology will allow and improve access to care, and many patients without access to care will have more access to care. E-health will be crucial to reaching more people. We use a system that allows different specialities to work together from separate locations, South Africa, London, or the Middle East. Doctors in one location can guide and help surgeons operate on another site through a screen. We are driving this adoption, even if it is only done for complex surgical cases. Telemedicine is part of day-to-day work now. Digitalization has allowed us to connect with more patients remotely, mainly due to Covid accelerating digital acceptance, and increased technology adoption and acceptance. The acceptance and uptake of E-health, in general, are quite high, and with that comes innovation. The use of technology created virtual hospital services, identifying, supplying, and connecting the patients with technology so they can be monitored from their homes, not from the hospital; an initiative that has been quite successful.

EF: How does Medtronic assist in the early prevention and diagnostics of non-communicable diseases which have been neglected these last years?  

PM: We have been working intensely on education and awareness for the general public in diabetes, heart condition, and oncology, and on education at a professional level for doctors and nurses, ensuring they are up to date because we realize the importance of early checks and diagnosis. We are very active and work on the right messaging and communication. Our pool of doctors and nurses are well equipped to tackle and deal with non-communicable diseases. As the middle class grows, non-communicable diseases are exploding, and the number of people with heart diseases, hypertension, and diabetes is growing and becoming a huge burden to the healthcare system. We see a gap where more doctors and healthcare workers are needed to cope with these growing diseases. We play a big role in educating professionals, as they must have the education to intervene with drug therapy or/and medical technology. Drugs can treat most diseases, but an intervention is often required. We have virtual labs where we teach how to intervene in these cases in South Africa and many other countries around the world.

EF: What is the strategic importance of South Africa for Medtronic?  

PM: There are many reasons South Africa is important to Medtronic. Medtronic is a big R&D company and relies on countries like South Africa to participate in a product's R&D stages to get evidence of where it can work best. Due to its geography, South Africa always contributes to the world with clinical trials in research and development. Medtronic South Africa contributes to Medtronic Global considerably and differently, both from an innovation and a commercial perspective. South Africa is unique because there is an interesting mix of first and third-world development and highly skilled and qualified doctors and professionals. The first doctor to do a heart transplant was South African, and we are still the best in that area.  

South Africa is key to Medtronic because it has a unique and advanced healthcare system both in infrastructure and specialists to perform complex procedures and therapies, which is Medtronic's strength. We are world leaders in cardiovascular, and South Africa is a very fertile environment for an R&D company like us to do clinical trials research and new product development. We can offer training and development of new procedures and therapies for cardiovascular diseases, general surgeries, and many other procedures. Medtronics capabilities and South Africa's infrastructure and needs are an excellent combination for mutual benefit. We bring leading innovative technology and new science which solves problems and is good for the country. Technologies are required, and the benefit is mutual.  

EF: Do you think South Africa can become a healthcare hub for a more self-reliant African continent?

PM: I have managed the whole continent in previous roles, and I have been to 44 countries in Africa. South Africa has played an important role as Africa's health hub for the longest time. Many companies launch into the continent from South Africa, and many South African companies have expanded on the continent. It is a market of over 1 billion people, and we could be the next China or India. We have seen many success stories that prove the potential is there. I organize Medtronic CEO Breakfasts Events and invite other company CEOs operating here to share business stories and personal stories/careers as a case study. Even in different sectors, the leaders/CEOs have navigated the same African journey we have. South Africa has the infrastructure with many high-end hospitals, but some of them still need to be more efficient. We have training facilities, medical schools and the best specialists in the world. The knowledge and know-how are here in a variety of hospitals, in primary care, tertiary hospitals, and specialized hospitals. South Africa has enough capacity and the best minds to navigate communicably and NCDs. Once the resources and capacity are started to be used well, we will complete the whole healthcare success story.  

EF: How do you see healthcare infrastructure's future and the new working environment?  

PM: The hybrid system works alternately 3/2 days per week at the office and home, and the model is here to stay. Healthcare infrastructure will be a mix of brick and mortar and digitalization, which will be significant in scope Certain activities that we do remotely will stay that way, with the odd face-to-face meeting.  

The ability to do things digitally will multiply, at the same time mental health and ability to socialize will be affected.  

EF: What new skill set are you looking at when hiring new talent?

PM: The need for a new skill set speaks to a change in more digitally-inclined roles over time. The head of digitalization looks at virtual engagement solutions for our stakeholders: customers, patients, and healthcare workers, creating different skill sets and roles. We have a team that does remote sales and market segmentation because we need to customize our approach.  

EF: What advice would you give to an outside investor seeking to put a stake in the healthcare system?

PM: I would say that this is a good moment to showcase the "African Story", and I can leverage my experience for this. I am very lucky to have worked in many segments of the healthcare system, including investing in hospital infrastructure. It gave me a clear picture of creating a hospital group to address a gap in the market, with the idea of expanding into the continent.  

EF: Congratulations on your recent appointment as chairman of SAMED. With your diverse experience in the sector, how will you add value to SAMED?

PM: I will continue to add value to our members with guidance, advice and support in ensuring the ease of operations in this complex industry, SAMED will continue to provide training around Code of Conduct and compliance, which is key to us. I would also like to elevate certain elements of the profile and status.  

EF: Regarding the importance of partnerships, how will you be encouraging SAMED members to engage in collaborations and keep the momentum going?

PM: SAMED will continue to support and encourage partnerships at different stakeholder levels, whether it’s industry or government and regulators. It will be centred around making the medical technology environment more conducive for members.  

EF: Do you have a message that you would like to deliver to the sector?

PM: A particular object that we have is the creation of a summit dedicated to the medical technology industry in order to reclaim a seat at the table, in terms of advocating and advancing the needs of the industry.  

April 2022
South Africa