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Beth McCombs joined BD two years ago because she was impressed by the company’s breadth and scope of its impact. 

Indeed, BD is a multinational medtech company with $20 billion in annual revenue across its medical, life sciences and interventional businesses in both American and international markets. The company produces 45 billion devices every year. As a technologist, she was won over by the 125-year-old company’s dedication to innovation and willingness to change. 

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“As I met the leadership in this organization, I saw a real passion for innovation and purpose for advancing the world of health. I also saw a boldness in reinventing the company over the last five years and bringing in new capabilities and software, like through the CareFusion acquisition. I really saw a desire for impact that matched what I wanted to do with next decade of my career. In particular, the focus on smart, connected devices to drive better outcomes intrigued me,” McCombs says. “It’s matched my expectations.”  

McCombs spoke with Health Evolution about how BD innovated and altered its strategy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the emergence of connected devices in health care, and the company’s outlook for 2022.  

How has BD innovated during the pandemic? What has changed about the way you’ve used innovation as a business strategy in the last two years? 

Certainly, through the COVID pandemic, BD’s role in health care became more apparent when we looked at getting the first molecular diagnostics to China and trying to figure out what was going on with COVID. We were working with biomedical researched through our biosciences platforms to work on vaccine development and to get a better understanding of COVID. Of course, there was the COVID testing where we were able to get our antigen tests to market quickly, in weeks. We’ve gotten more than 100 million antigen and PCR tests we’ve used and more than 2 billion syringes.  

It was a call to action and strengthened our purpose. I think it galvanized our associates, even though it was a difficult time. We also learned the importance of focusing on innovation that really matters. When we did that during the pandemic, we were able to move quickly and have a tremendous impact. Over the last two years, we’ve been looking very closely at our innovation portfolio and focusing on the areas of highest need where we think we can differentiate.  

We have our durable core, the products that we’re known for that tie into most of our revenue, we’re going to continue to innovate and redefine those. At the same time, we’re focusing on three big forces in health care, we think these trends are irreversible and we can have an impact in. One is the increasing number of smart connected devices. Two is the shift into new care settings and moving beyond the hospital – through ambulatory surgical centers, long-term care, retail and in the home. We’ve been making acquisitions in those spaces. Patients want to be treated in those places. A lot of hospitals want to go there as well. The third focus is on chronic care—the breadth we have in diagnostics to therapy, how do we drive better outcomes for patients with chronic disease? 60 percent of our innovation budget is along those three pillars.  

How does a $20 billion company stay nimble and innovative compared to many startups and newcomers in health care?  

With larger companies, there tends to be more bureaucracy and innovation can sometimes be a challenge. At BD, there is very much a focus on empowering our individual units, getting close to the customers to drive the decision making for those units. It doesn’t roll up to a corporate level, where you don’t have the customer knowledge to make decisions and move quickly. We also have a speak-up culture and a servant leadership mindset. The pace of innovation is accelerating, and the answers won’t come from me, they’ll come from a diverse group of talented employees at all levels with different perspectives. Listening in and having that servant leadership mindset vs. a top-down approach of command and control is important culturally.  

We are working with Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. We’re working with small tech companies, too. Ninety percent of our connected device programs involve an external partner, which really stay on the cutting edge of technology.

Beth McCombs, CTO of BD

We focus on how we can tap into the innovation that’s going on in the world. It doesn’t have to happen within BD. We do acquisitions. We’re starting to do more equity investments and novel partnerships. We can be aware of the companies that are in some of these new spaces and help learn and shape their strategies. We’re bringing some insights to the table. Our role as a big company is to bring innovation to scale that’s reliable for our customers. It can be innovation within this company or around the world.   

To that point, how do partnerships play into the way BD innovates?  

We are working with Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. We’re working with small tech companies, too. Ninety percent of our connected device programs involve an external partner, which really stay on the cutting edge of technology.  

We have over 2 million connected products in the market today. There is a ton of data that’s coming from those products. We’re not going to be the ones to know natural language processing and analyzing that information. That’s where we’ll partner with the big tech companies. Natural language processing, cloud hosting capabilities and cybersecurity. Those are the areas where big tech is at the forefront in other industries, and we can tap into that as a health care company. Our strength is in understanding the clinical environment and developing the product side. Then we want to bring in some of the enterprise software capabilities from partners.  

We’re very focused on speed to clinic vs. speed to ramping up to full manufacturing. We want to get some of our innovation in the hands of our customers as early as possible so they can test it out. Does this workflow work for you or are we adding more complexity? Are we distracting the nurses? What are the most relevant things they need to know in a given situation? We want to get all of that right so there’s no complexity for the human interface with the device. We want to make it as simple as possible for our customers. We work with a lot of health systems and individual interventionalists to help us get that right.  

What’s on tap for BD and the medtech space overall in the next few months? 

COVID seems never ending at the moment. Hopefully we’ll have another breather soon. It’s been amazing to me the pace of innovation with vaccines, testing and therapies to address the pandemic. It gives us confidence as an industry, how important our role is in health care, and we need to have that mindset that patients are waiting, and we need to focus on things that matter. Those three forces I mentioned earlier — connected devices, chronic care, and new care settings — that’s where we’re going to put our investments along with continuing to deliver meaningful innovation in our durable core. Every medtech company needs to have thoughtful conversations on where we can have the most impact as an industry. The hospitals and health care providers are tired. As an industry, we need to figure out what role technology can play to alleviate that and allow health care providers to focus on their patients.