How Medtronic LABS Is Expanding Healthcare to Patients Around the World
Medtronic LABS is expanding healthcare to patients battling non-communicable diseases in disadvantaged communities around the world
No one ever wants to be so sick that they need hospital care. And yet, it took a trip to the hospital for 65-year-old “Kwasi” to finally get the care he needed for his diabetes and hypertension. While there, he was enrolled in a Medtronic LABS program that provides virtual care to patients in isolated areas of Kenya and Ghana. Now, when Kwasi checks his glucose and blood pressure, those readings are digitally relayed to his doctor, keeping him connected to his care. With his diabetes and hypertension under control, a healthy Kwasi says that checking his vital signs makes him happy.
A preventable tragedy
Like Kwasi, millions of people who live in underserved parts of the world suffer from chronic diseases. From hypertension to diabetes, chronic and non-communicable diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide, killing more than 41 million people each year. In many underserved countries, people die from non-communicable diseases simply because they lack access to quality healthcare. But access doesn’t always equal good outcomes for patients. Sometimes, the cost of treating non-communicable diseases can drain household resources, exacerbating the vicious cycle of poverty. Addressing the global threat of chronic disease will require a fundamental shift in the way healthcare is delivered. Technology can provide solutions that work for everyone.
Greater healthcare access for all
It all began with a challenge from Omar Ishrak, the former CEO of Medtronic. He asked: How might the Medtronic technological expertise be leveraged to expand access to healthcare for the five billion underserved patients across the world? The answer?
With more than 130 employees at 200+ sites across the globe, Medtronic LABS is an independent, non-profit organization with multiple entities including an operating foundation, a social business, and in-country subsidiaries that creates technology-powered healthcare solutions for disadvantaged communities around the world. Digital technology is at the core of these solutions, which can be scaled for maximum impact and efficiency.
By offering a combination of software, low-cost medical devices, and healthcare services, LABS is improving patient outcomes in some of the world’s most vulnerable and underserved communities.
To better understand the needs of these communities, LABS’ field operation experts, health coaches, clinicians, technologists, and designers work with local partners to remove barriers to quality healthcare such as cost, access, and social isolation. Whether it’s training community health workers in Africa or conducting hearing clinics in India, Medtronic LABS is creating equity within global health systems. But there’s more work to do.
Technology as a bridge to better health
The healthcare models created and scaled by Medtronic LABS capitalize on what Medtronic does best: applying cutting-edge technology to innovative medical devices, therapies, and healthcare solutions. These technology-fueled platforms are designed to meet patients where they are, often in their own communities. And by using remote technologies, Medtronic LABS is expanding the reach of clinicians in underserved communities where there are often shortages of medical professionals.
At the core of each of these technology platforms are data and analytics. Medtronic LABS helps patients capture data throughout the care continuum – during screening, enrollment, and throughout their entire healthcare journey. This wealth of data generated can be analyzed to inform care decisions and measure the program’s impact.
The software solutions developed by Medtronic LABS are designed to invest patients in their own healthcare. Patients can participate in virtual support groups or track their own data using customized dashboards. By giving patients tools like these, Medtronic LABS is helping to close pervasive healthcare gaps around the world.
A community presence
Medtronic LABS recognizes that a one-size-fits-all approach to healthcare won’t work in most disadvantaged communities. It relies on healthcare teams already integrated into local health systems to determine the best approach to deliver quality care. LABS trains these teams and local community health workers to provide screenings and ongoing management of chronic diseases.
A good example of Medtronic LABS’ hyperlocal approach to healthcare is currently unfolding in Bhutan. LABS is working with the government there, the UN Technology Bank, and other partners to screen children for hearing loss and provide continued care for those who need it. These screenings will take place at hospitals, schools, and communities across the country and utilize LABS portable screening and digital patient management technologies.
Expanding global access to healthcare requires perseverance and partners. Medtronic LABS has both. For example, LABS worked with the Kerala State Government to offer low-cost health services in public schools in India. During the pilot project, more than 1,100 school children were screened for hearing loss. In Kenya, LABS launched Afya Dumu, a landmark public-private partnership with the Ministry of Health, three county governments, Novartis Global Health, and Management Sciences for Health. Afya Dumu provides long-term support for patients with diabetes, hypertension, and other co-morbidities. In its first year, the partnership screened more than 20,000 people.
And now, for the first time, LABS is working to improve healthcare access for patients living in underserved communities in the United States. Recently, LABS announced collaborations with Medtronic, Virtua Health, and the Cherry Hill Free Clinic with the goal of helping patients manage their chronic diseases in Camden, NJ and beyond. The Cherry Hill Free Clinic will be the site of LABS’ first U.S.-based pilot. Together, the organizations aim to build a proven, replicable model that becomes the benchmark for community healthcare delivery across the United States.
Programs with purpose
Medtronic LABS is setting out to design the health system of the future — one that is equitable, tech-enabled, and patient-centered. Here’s how.
- SHRUTI: Shruti, meaning ‘what is heard’ in Sanskrit, addresses ear diseases and hearing loss in underserved populations in India and Bhutan. It utilizes a community health worker (CHW)-based service model enabled by point-of-care diagnostics, hearing implants, and digital tools.
- PRERNA: Prerna, meaning ‘inspiration’ in Sanskrit, is a comprehensive healthcare delivery model for people in India living with, or at risk for, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and co-morbid diseases in a group-based setting, close to home.
- AFYA DUMU: Afya Dumu, meaning ‘lasting health’ in Swahili, is the result of a landmark public private partnership focused on creating a patient-centered, end-to-end model of care for patients living with chronic diseases in Kenya.
- AKOMA PA: Akoma Pa, meaning ‘healthy heart’ in Twi, relies on a multi-stakeholder partnership to deliver transformative healthcare to people living with hypertension and diabetes in Ghana.
- PADAYON AND SAKAM: Padayon, meaning ‘move forward’ in Hiligaynon, redefines patient experiences through innovative service delivery in the Philippines. Sakam takes a similar approach with patients in Cambodia.
Expanding the reach of doctors in Sub-Saharan Africa
As the COVID-19 pandemic reinforced, quality healthcare doesn’t always have to be delivered in-person. Patients enrolled in Medtronic LABS Empower Health program in Ghana and Kenya get the best of both worlds. They can receive virtual care from clinicians who can remotely review their data, provide feedback, and write prescriptions. Likewise, they can access regular blood pressure or glucose checks through community health workers at community partner locations or in the comfort of their own home.
Applying the power of technology to expand quality healthcare to underserved communities throughout the world is an ambitious, powerful goal. Patients enrolled in Medtronic LABS’ programs get the best of both worlds. By combining the passion and expertise of their people with Medtronic’s innovative medical technology, they are working to make the world a healthier, more equitable place for everyone.