Read the Conversation

EF: 2020 was the year of diagnostics, 2021 the year of vaccination, what do you think 2022 will be the year of?

PO: In 2022 and beyond there will be a focus on digital capabilities and digital delivery. As much change happened in 2020 and 2021, for example, home delivery and home diagnosis, virtual clinics, virtual visits, and digital capabilities, it's important that we don't lose sight of all that, and what we can apply moving forward.

We've also come a long way in terms of home diagnosis and having the technology to identify diseases earlier, such as lung cancer and other non-communicable diseases. People weren't diagnosed as frequently during 2020 and 2021, so we worked hard on technologies to advance early diagnosis. 2022 will have learnings from things that happened in 2020 and 2021, and applying those is what's going to shape 2023 and beyond.

EF: What other lessons can you share from the pandemic?

PO: In moments of crisis, the personal well-being of employees and not just professional development is extremely important. We conducted sessions to make sure people were mentally okay, had good setups in their homes, and from a personal well-being perspective, were in a good place, which is one thing we've also tried to continue. 

Focusing on Patient education was also extremely important, especially with the digital delivery of health and education. Even in a non-pandemic situation, people need to be able to receive health information easily.

EF: Could you elaborate on the role AstraZeneca had in Colombia throughout the past years?

PO: The role that we aimed to play is to ensure patients had access to healthcare and that during a time of change were able to consistently receive education and medication. We worked hard on home-delivery, home-testing and providing those services for patients, but also educating young people and making sure that information reached them.

We spent a lot of time looking at early diagnosis and early treatment because many patients across Latin America, unfortunately, are diagnosed in the late stages of diseases. We've worked hard not only with our own solutions for early diagnosis but also partnering with local companies and start-ups to help build technology to make sure patients can be diagnosed and treated earlier by going for screening. A lot of that is new technologies that are being developed for the future that we've played a big role in.

EF: Could you elaborate on your footprint with the Colombia innovation hub?

PO: One of the key objectives of AstraZeneca is local partnerships because we realize everything can't be done by ourselves, and we must collaborate and leverage the expertise that exists in the country and across other countries as well. The concept of the hub is to bring together the industry, academia, and government innovation entities to help co-collaborate and co-create solutions that can help the country in the future. 

A big part of that is start-up companies who have expertise we don't and access to things that we don't. When these groups are working together with this concept of the innovation hub, we can build solutions that'll really help Colombia and Colombian patients in the future.

EF: How would you see access in Colombia different from other countries?

PO: The concept of health access being a fundamental right in Colombia, and really believe that's what the system is built on. It provides access to all patients and involves collaboration between both public and private companies. The system has a solid foundation and many strong qualities, and when I look across the places I've been to, everybody strives for that, and each country has its own unique challenges. I see some similarities across the three or four places I've worked in, but I also see some things in Colombia that are unique and very strong. It's a well-positioned system for the future.

EF: What advice would you give to get patients back to care, to make this change and shift the attention to other diseases rather than COVID?

PO: What we learned over the last couple of years goes much beyond COVID, when people were trapped in their homes, lots of patients couldn't get even their regular visits with physicians that would in some cases, allow them to diagnose a condition early. What we learned is this idea of early screening and early attention to healthcare to make sure people identify things earlier. 

We learned that we need to be flexible as a country and as an industry in terms of how we can diagnose patients because when patients must travel long distances to get treatment or testing, it can be very challenging. So being nimble and agile while finding creative ways to make sure we can test patients at home as we did during the pandemic, but also potentially in locations that are more convenient for them, and if possible, providing transportation and the kinds of things that a patient needs which is something that we do through our patient support program. 

EF: What is your point of view on the role of healthcare in developing an economy for countries like Colombia?

PO: A healthy, educated patient population delivers a healthy economy, and this feeds a little bit into the point that I made about the Young Health Program, a 5-year program that we've been sponsoring here at AstraZeneca, where we've co-sponsored this program with Fundación Plan to target young people from the age of 10 to 24 (trained 100K and targeting 1m by end of the year) to make sure they have education on simple things like tobacco use, alcohol abuse, physical inactivity, diet, all the contributors to good healthcare, and that they have the right level of education early so that they can make solid decisions for the future.

EF: Do you see the future employees' skillsets changing?

PO: Definitely. We're seeing an emergence of digital technologies and a need for more agility and quick decision-making because we had to make a lot of quick decisions and make shifts and adapt to the new environment. Flexibility is also a big part of working in the future and embracing new ideas that work and scaling them to make sure they reach more patients. 

EF: How did AstraZeneca change the approach of agile decision-making, and what advice would you give to other business leaders that want to do the same?

PO: The advice I'd give is to embrace new technology and ways of working, e.g., this hybrid way of working has been something people have had to adapt to. Also don't be set on the past, that everything we did was always the right way, because it isn't the case anymore, embrace diversity in the workplace as it is critical to success. Change the way you approach things and realize that there are better ways of doing things and better ways of reaching patients, and once you have identified that new way, implement it quickly and move fast. I would also say use the resources around you, decisions shouldn't be made by one person or a small group of people, but by a group of actors that have diverse ways of thinking, and different approaches. 

EF: What would you like to be remembered for 5 years from now?

PO: Five years from now, if people are saying a pivotal point in their career development was when I worked with Peter and he helped me to grow and advance in my career and to develop as a person and a professional, that to me, would be a great way to be described. I want to develop people. It's a top priority for me.

In terms of the business, I would want to be viewed as someone who during a time of change, embraced new ideas, and diversity of thought, and was very open to new ways of working and of doing things. 

EF: Is there anything else worth highlighting that we didn't touch base on today?

PO: Another topic that's come up quite a lot, not so much related to the pandemic period, is the idea of sustainability, and community responsibility. AstraZeneca has a strong commitment to this, not only at a corporate level but at a local level, things like reducing carbon emissions and being responsible in the community by contributing to the community e.g., what we're doing with the Young Health Program and working with local start-up companies.

EF: Which programs would you want to highlight?

PO: I would say it's three parts. The first one is the commitment to zero carbon that the company has at a corporate level by 2025. The second is we're committed to finding more efficient ways to manufacture products and limit our footprint, (a corporate commitment by 2030). The third pillar is our commitment to make sure that they're educated in healthcare and that they're as prepared as can be to build the future of Colombia. 

April 2022