She Oversees One of the World's Largest Healthcare Businesses: 7 Questions for Ashley McEvoy in the Time of COVID-19
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magine running a $26 billion-dollar business with more than 70,000 employees around the world. Then imagine a global pandemic hitting and upending the core mission of your business: helping elevate the standard of medical care that patients receive across the globe.
That's what Ashley McEvoy, Executive Vice President, Worldwide Chairman, Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies (JJMDC), was faced with when elective surgery essentially came to a halt as COVID-19 spread across the globe.
For McEvoy, two things became urgently important: doing something about the significant impact that the pandemic was having on millions of healthcare workers and raising awareness about what delaying medical care for long periods of time could mean for people well beyond the end of the pandemic.
As she was preparing to lead a virtual Medical Devices Update for the investment community, we caught up with McEvoy to discuss how the business is doing 10 months into the pandemic, how she led that 70,000+-strong workforce while quarantining at home with her husband, John, and five children—and what she's doing on both a professional and personal level to help address this year's "tri-sis."
Not surprisingly, McEvoy was also just named to the National Association for Female Executives Women of Excellence list for 2020. As you will see, it's a well-deserved accolade for a leader who is "very grateful for everyone at team Johnson & Johnson."
It has been nine months since the start of the pandemic that uprooted life as we know it. What are you seeing across the company's medical devices business, particularly in terms of the elective surgery landscape?
Ashley McEvoy: It's remarkable what people around the world have endured throughout this pandemic, and I'm so impressed by the recovery efforts and what healthcare professionals have been doing to help both people affected by COVID-19 and other patients.
Every week, we track how our hospital systems are doing by procedures, and I am pleased to say that, for the first time this year, we're at about 100% of pre-COVID levels in our top countries.
As of the end of October five of those countries—China, France, Germany, Japan and Russia—actually achieved north of 100% and are doing more procedures now than before the pandemic. The United States is hovering around 98% of the volume pre-COVID, and our top 10 hospital systems in the U.S. are a little bit shy of that, probably about 5% down relative to pre-COVID levels.
The pandemic has been humbling, but it's also been inspiring. I think there's a better world realization of just how important healthcare is—for all 7 billion people on the planet.ShareDid you like reading this story? Click the heart to show your love.
Our Biosense Webster electrophysiology business was the first to see recovery with cardiac ablation procedures, which help treat atrial fibrillation. We've also had increases in stroke treatments, trauma procedures, spine surgeries and hip transplants.
And we're seeing our contact lens business coming back. Early on in the pandemic, people weren't regularly wearing their contacts, but we are now seeing this business improve, especially Acuvue® in Asia, where people are returning to the workforce. I expect this area of our portfolio to grow even more in the coming months, plus we have a host of Vision Care launches this year and into 2021 for new and improved ways to help those with presbyopia and astigmatism, as well as the world's first contact lens that provides relief for itchy allergy eyes.
The pandemic has been humbling, but it's also been inspiring. I think there's a better world realization of just how important healthcare is—for all 7 billion people on the planet. At Johnson & Johnson, we have a unique calling to help serve those patients, and I'm very hopeful of the business momentum that will allow us to deliver on this mission.
Has the pandemic presented any unique challenges that have enabled JJMDC to really step up and help address an unmet need?
As the largest healthcare company in the world, I think we have a pretty remarkable purpose, and I think that purpose has been reinforced in this COVID-19 environment, allowing us to be a strong convener for healthcare professionals and patients around the world.
For example, we partnered with a company called Advances in Surgery (AIS) to help provide the latest information about the novel coronavirus to surgeons, nurses and other healthcare providers via a free digital platform called AIS resources. It also provides virtual training for COVID-19 care, such as an online mechanical ventilation course, and there's a 24-hour chat forum for healthcare providers with urgent questions.
I watched the service grow from supporting 500,000 healthcare professionals to 5 million since the beginning of the pandemic. It has been really special to see us connecting world experts with each other in this innovative way.
One of the things we learned early on in the pandemic was that COVID-19 patients in Wuhan, China, were presenting with heart arrhythmias post-treatment, so we moved quickly to connect electrophysiologists on the ground in Wuhan with electrophysiologists in Europe and the United States to help provide support and expertise.
That kind of critical early intervention work also led us to launch My Health Can't Wait, an educational initiative and online resource to help support patients and healthcare providers during the pandemic.
We developed it after learning that a lot of people with cardiac disease and those at risk of cancer were not seeking medical care during the pandemic. The goal is to help healthcare professionals and patients re-engage in meaningful conversations about how and when to get the right medical treatment, so they can make informed, balanced and appropriate decisions together about how best to pursue needed care, both now and in the future.
I have so many stories like these that make me proud. At the peak of the pandemic in the spring, we helped support the creation of a pop-up hospital in the U.K. We delivered the protocols. We delivered the supplies. And then we helped the team on the ground run it.
Similarly, in the United States we worked to set up trauma overflow facilities on two different hospital ships, one of which was docked in New York City, the USNS Comfort, and the other on the coast of California, the USNS Mercy. That's a pretty remarkable thing to be able to do.
This year has also brought to light the many health disparities and inequities that still need to be addressed in this nation. How is JJMDC doing its part to tackle this issue?
I've heard that 2020 is the year of the "tri-sis"—the triple pandemic of sorts.
We're facing the health challenges brought on by COVID-19, the economy has taken a hit, and we're seeing a lot of really important discussions and action taking place on racism and social injustice. The combination of those three events, all occuring at the same time, is something I don't think we've experienced ever before.
One question we've been asking ourselves is how we can do better when it comes to ensuring our healthcare professionals represent our patient base. How can we, for example, nurture more people within the Black community to be surgeons.ShareDid you like reading this story? Click the heart to show your love.
The third facet in this "tri-sis" is probably the area where I've grown the most in 2020, because I've been on a major education campaign. While I've always thought my value system has been rooted in equality and ensuring people feel safe and that they belong, I personally have not done enough for Black people and communities of color.
I remember seeing a picture online this year of a woman holding a sign as she was protesting that said, “I’m sorry I’m late, I had a lot to learn.” That really resonated for me, because I’ve been doing a lot of learning and listening this year.
I am pleased with the discussions that we're having across the company regarding how we're making our workforce even more inclusive, as well as using our size and scale for good to drive change in our communities. Within the medical devices business, I am part of a leadership team at AdvaMed—a U.S. trade association of different companies that advance medical technology for patients—that is currently focused on how we can align on common principles and what we stand for as an industry.
One question we've been asking ourselves is: How we can do better when it comes to ensuring our healthcare professionals represent our patient base? How can we, for example, nurture more people within the Black community to be surgeons? We hosted an amazing virtual talk session about a month ago and had seven Black female traumatologists speak at the event.
These women were courageous and brave and hilarious. And, wow, did they present a wake-up call for us about how lonely it was for them in the early days! Now we're using this as a wake-up call to really help each other make more meaningful progress and instill change that lasts.
The pandemic has changed how we approach medical care, and now we see an increased demand for tele-medicine offerings. What are some other interesting trends you are seeing?
In addition to modernizing how we engage with healthcare professionals and do professional education through such digital platforms as AIS resources, I think virtual product development that's done outside of a lab will also expand.
I saw firsthand the incredible dedication, ingenuity and entrepreneurship that our R&D medical devices colleagues demonstrated in the middle of a pandemic. We had over 5,000 employees figuring out quickly how to continue to do development, systems analysis and validations as part of a remote global community.
I've also seen our commercial and supply chain teams working together in new ways. Since COVID-19 impacted our business on a procedure-by-procedure level, we've started adapting how we do our sales and operations planning to look at when cases are scheduled and focus on procedure-based forecasting.
I also think we are going to see a shift in the industry toward increased tele-mentoring, with more of a focus on remote case observation, rather than a proctor being in the case live, from anywhere in the world.
Johnson & Johnson is uniquely positioned as a healthcare company, thanks to a broadly based model that includes medical devices and pharmaceuticals. Can you talk about any exciting opportunities this presents for impactful collaboration?
This is exactly what we're doing with our Lung Cancer Initiative, combining the expertise of Dr. William Hait, a world-renowned oncologist, with Dr. Avrum Spira, a world-renowned pulmonologist, and Dr. Fred Moll, the father of robotic surgery. When you put them together, they can do some incredibly special things.
When it comes to lung cancer, many people are diagnosed too late, so the outcomes are not optimal. But if you can intercept the disease earlier through a minimally-invasive diagnostic tool, you have the potential to improve those outcomes.ShareDid you like reading this story? Click the heart to show your love.
Unfortunately, when it comes to lung cancer, many people are diagnosed too late, so the outcomes are not optimal. But if you can intercept the disease earlier through a minimally invasive diagnostic tool, you have the potential to improve those outcomes.
We have that tool now out in the marketplace. It's called Monarch and it works by going through the lungs in a very minimally invasive way to get a diagnostic of a lung lesion, enabling physicians to ascertain if it is cancerous or not.
That's just step one in the process.
For step two, we are in active clinical development with one of our assets, NeuWave, which is an ablation technology that could enable a surgeon to exert energy at the point of a lesion to potentially treat it.
And from the pharmaceutical angle, we're also exploring the ability to disperse an oncolytic treatment into the lungs in an equally minimally invasive way to potentially treat a cancerous lesion.
This multi-pronged approach has the potential to change the game for how we might treat lung cancer.
JJMDC is a leader when it comes to advancing what it means to undergo a minimally invasive surgical procedure. Can you share what is on the horizon for 2021?
We say innovation is a company sport, and the medical devices team has doubled the value of our pipeline since 2018, with a focus on better execution and more disruptive transformational innovations.
This year, our Biosense Webster business received European approval for the world's first high-power, short-duration ablation catheter, which can significantly reduce procedure time without compromising safety.
Our Ethicon business was really at the ground floor of making surgery minimally invasive, and they've continued to innovate, revamping their Echelon stapling business, which will be rolling out over the next 12 months.
It's really important for complex surgical cases, like colorectal cancer, to make sure that staple lines are strong, with the objective of reducing leaks when operating on organs like the colon—and the team is really delivering on this.
Turning back to the pandemic, we've talked about how you've grown as a leader, but what about on a personal level?
We definitely have a full house. And we've been in quarantine together for what feels like a very long time. My goodness!
My children understand that they are a product of privilege, and that they have to use their voice to help and to be a 'forever' ally. And we compare notes on what that looks like.ShareDid you like reading this story? Click the heart to show your love.
But in all seriousness, the experience has shown me just how engaged my children's generation is—and what I can learn from them. They understand that they are a product of privilege, and that they have to use their voice to help and to be a 'forever' ally. And we compare notes on what that looks like.
What are the words they can use when they see something that's not okay? And how can they have an impact and, and quite frankly, create more unity and less divisiveness?
So the quarantine has presented an opportunity to have these conversations, which has been a blessing. I think they will remember it. Given that we have all been part of a historic year, we will all remember 2020 for the rest of our lives.