Turning Our Innovative Spirit to Health Equity

by | Nov 9, 2021 | Mentoring, Thought Leadership

The 23rd Annual Thomas J. Fogarty Lecture was honored to feature Lisa Earnhardt, executive vice president of medical devices at Abbott, sharing her views on “Health Innovation: Focus on Access and Outcomes.” The combination live and streamed event on October 8 hit record-breaking attendance of over 500 in an audience that included physicians, entrepreneurs, students, professors and former speakers such as Thomas Fogarty, MDRodney Perkins, MDPaul Yock, MDCasey McGlynnFred Moll, MDDeb KilpatrickBrook Byers and Julio Palmaz, MD.

The event was co-sponsored by Fogarty Innovation, the Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign and the Stanford Department of Surgery. This first hybrid Fogarty Lecture was kicked off by Tom Krummel, MD, Fogarty’s chairman of the board, a Stanford Biodesign senior advisor, and the driving force behind the lecture series throughout the years. In his welcome he reminded everyone of the lectureship’s origins 23 years ago. “We wanted to provide an annual forum to promote medtech innovation, improve the lives of patients, acknowledge the historic partnerships across Silicon Valley that have created our remarkable ecosystem, and of course, recognize the invaluable contributions Dr. Fogarty has made throughout his career that helped launch our industry and inspire countless additional inventions.”

Given that foundation, Lisa was an excellent addition to the list of Fogarty headliners. 

She joined Abbott, a global healthcare leader, in 2019 where she spearheads a $12 billion a year business with more than 33,000 employees, overseeing a broad offering of advanced technologies that address some of the world’s most prevalent, costly and difficult to manage chronic conditions. Previously, Lisa was president and CEO of Intersect ENT, leading the company from early stage to a public company, which was recently acquired by Medtronic. She also has extensive experience leading global product launches and drove the adoption of a number of new medical technologies at both Guidant and Boston Scientific and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Ferolyn Powell Award from MedtechWomen. 

In her presentation Lisa shared her vision for a new approach to designing innovation and driving value in the healthcare system by focusing on access and affordability. 

Shaping the future of healthcare calls for new approaches to innovation

Given the industry’s shared goal and purpose of improving health for people around the world, innovation must be at the core. “That has to be supported through collaboration and partnership because we cannot do this alone. We all have a key role to play in the future of medtech because we all bring our own different experiences and proactive ways to make an impact moving forward,” Lisa says. 

“We’ve seen incredible, unprecedented work as it relates to vaccine development and advanced diagnostics this last year. This whole ecosystem has joined together to perform amazingly well, and there’s no question we’ve significantly decreased suffering. Yet there’s so much more to do,” she says. 

As the pandemic showcased the power of innovation on healthcare, companies like Abbott stepped up to the plate to help. But what was equally highlighted were the disparities in access to care and outcomes. According to Lisa, innovation focused on both access and outcomes has the potential to close those gaps.

A necessary change to address the vast gaps in access to healthcare globally 

A stunning one in three people lack access to essential health and technologies, which contributes to an 18-year difference in life expectancy between rich and poor countries. At the same time, the global healthcare system is already overburdened. A projected $16 trillion will be spent on healthcare globally by 2020, nearly double what it is today, and 20 million additional healthcare workers will be needed by 2030. Clearly, something needs to change to overcome this global health crisis.

The medtech industry has typically played a role in delivering innovations that reduce mortality and morbidity, but now it’s engaging with consumers in a much more direct and powerful way and turning attention to preventing disease. Digital technologies, in particular, have enormous potential to help drive health equity. 

“While we are adept at creating new technologies that address clinical problems, that’s only part of the solution,” says Lisa. “Now we also need to address some of the health-related social challenges, which means not only developing the therapy itself but making sure that the patients who need these treatments receive them.”

Addressing social challenges has to be at the forefront of innovation, and Lisa shared the mindset of focusing on the three “Ds”: democratization, decentralization and digitization.

  • Democratization is putting as much power, control, ease and convenience into the hands of patients as possible. 
  • Decentralization is about bringing the best healthcare as close to the patient as possible, whenever they need it.
  • Digitization is enabling patient, physician, clinicians and healthcare providers to more easily interpret and act upon personal health data, including real-time data about your health, as well as charts, lab results, bills and more.   

Using the three “Ds” for the greater good

Lisa shared that Abbott’s COVID-19 tests present one example of this principle in practice. From the beginning, the company knew it needed to make them available across a variety of settings, from the lab out to schools, workplaces, homes and more. Because this would require different tests, it’s a great example of decentralized care. That led them to develop highly reliable, accurate, affordable tests that were easy-to-use in non-traditional settings and could be mass produced. 

The result was the BinaxNOW COVID-19 rapid antigen test, which received emergency use authorization from the FDA in August2020, and an at-home version was approved and launched later in 2020 that greatly expanded access to more people through  retail partners like Walmart. 

Another example Lisa discussed is Abbott’s FreeStyle Libre, its continuous glucose monitoring system, which is helping more than 3.5 million people in 50 countries manage their diabetes. Diabetes is an epidemic that impacts 460 million adults around the globe, and this number is projected to grow to 700 million in the next 20 years. In 2019 alone, diabetes claimed the lives of 4 million people, with middle- and low-income countries bearing the brunt. The global cost of managing diabetes is almost $800 billion annually. 

Lisa shared a story about how Abbott’s first attempt to tackle this condition in 2008 missed the mark. While state-of-the-art at the time, the technology was difficult to use and expensive to make, which impeded access. Years later the company applied its focus on affordability and accessibility to create a small, simple product that is life-changing to countless patients. 

As Lisa shared, it’s important to not just develop new technologies, but make them accessible. “If people can’t access something they need, it affects us all,” Lisa says. “Collectively we can lower the cost of healthcare and transform the standard of care, but it takes a village.”

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