If you’re in a hospital, then you’re familiar with the work of Tom Polen, Bus ’03 (MBA). Polen is chairman, CEO and president of Becton, Dickinson and Company (BD), which manufactures and sells more than 38 billion medical devices a year, which are then used by more than 90% of hospital patients in the United States.
“I pretty much guarantee that anyone who sees this today has been touched by a BD product,” Polen said during a Johns Hopkins Health Policy Forum event on Tuesday. “Any tube you’ve ever had blood collected in or a needle in your arm, is very, very likely a BD product. If you’ve ever had an injection or a vaccination, it’s very likely a BD syringe.”
With 43,000 products used in more than 190 countries, BD-and by extension Polen-have long been at the forefront of innovations in medical technology. During Tuesday’s event, Polen discussed his experience running a multinational company with Carey Business School Dean Alex Triantis, venturing into conversations about artificial intelligence, health care issues, and the personal story of Poland.
Polen was first introduced to the medical industry at the age of 13, when he saw his 35-year-old mother suffer an unexpected fatal brain aneurysm.
“This experience really gave me a first-hand look at health care,” Polen said. “At that point I really committed to wanting to make a difference in improving health care.”
Now, Polen finds itself facing all of the most pressing health care challenges, including global supply chain issues, geopolitical instability and high patient costs.
“To do good, we really need to make sure that our innovations are aligned with the needs of the local markets in which we participate,” said Polen. “Lower cost health care close to where patients want to receive it. These are great investment areas for [BD].”
Polen also discussed the massive potential for artificial intelligence in the healthcare field, which he believes can help doctors with everything from counting pills to diagnosing patients. BD already sells several products that incorporate or are enabled AItechnology AI, including those that can monitor drug abuse and identify bacteria.
“[BD is] really focused on capitalizing on the technological revolution happening right now. It’s a tremendous opportunity,” he said. “Having the right diagnosis when AI is a companion of the doctor, … will improve the results.”
From Polen’s perspective, doctors spend too much time on basic tasks like entering information into a computer. Automation could free up that time, decreasing physician burnout and giving patients more individual attention from their doctors.
However, he also acknowledged that implementing new technology too quickly could be dangerous, both for the business and the consumer.
“When it comes to patients and AI, there certainly needs to be safeguards in place. That’s why we don’t want to rush to get AI out. We want to do it the right way,” said Polen. “I’m really optimistic that we all get it, and I’m already seeing a lot of progress happening here.”
Polen is the 10th expert to participate in the Health Policy Forum series, which was launched in the fall of 2020 to highlight the university’s engagement with key leaders in health and care policy sanitary Previous events featured:
- Anthony Fauci, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (October 2020)
- Rochelle P. Walensky, Med ’95 (MD), ’98 (PGF), director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the height of the COVID pandemic (May 2021)
- Robert M. Davis, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Merck (October 2021)
- Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (January 2022)
- Atul Gawande, assistant administrator for the Office of Global Health at the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID (April 2022)
- Donna Shalala, former HHS secretary and member of Congress (June 2022)
- Xavier Becerra, Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services (December 2022)
- Michelle Lujan Grisham, 32nd Governor of New Mexico (May 2023)
- Sudip Parikh, CEO, American Association for the Advancement of Science (July 2023)
The Health Policy Forum series is hosted by the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Carey Business School, School of Nursing and Johns Hopkins Medicine.
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