Bio: VAFA JAMALI serves as Senior Vice President and President of Respiratory, Gastrointestinal & Informatics (RGI) within Medtronic’s Minimally Invasive Therapies Group (MITG), responsible for the strategic direction and global leadership of the $2.5 Billion business which includes Patient Monitoring (PM), Respiratory Intervention (RI), and Gastrointestinal and Hepatology (GIH). Vafa joined Covidien in January of 2009 as Vice President and General Manager of Covidien Canada. Prior to joining Covidien GI Solutions, he held positions of increasing responsibility with Cardinal Health and Baxter. Vafa was born in Tehran, Iran and grew up in Canada. He
received his Bachelor of Commerce degree with distinction from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Science is in my family’s blood. My parents were both university professors, dad focused on pharmaceutical sciences and mom was a bioethicist. While both had a strong influence on me, I have always been fascinated by the newest and latest medicine and devices for people with critical or chronic illnesses. What really hit home with me was that I saw my parents contributing to the greater good of humankind. Their work made a meaningful impact on society. I wanted to make that connection for myself and make a difference in the lives of others. However, I didn’t want to head into the lab. I learned that I could contribute to society in a way that aligned with my values, interests and skill set from the business side of healthcare. From an early age, I knew that a career that blended science, healthcare and business was right for me and would allow me to make a difference in the world.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Early in my career I had to make an important speech to a large audience of over 1,000 people. I stepped up to the podium and realized that I left my notes on my chair. So, I had to arrange the agenda in my head and improvise. It turned out to be one of my best speeches. The reason? I had to speak not only from my knowledge, but from passion. The lesson learned is that when you speak from the heart, you make a more powerful connection with your audience. I learned that authenticity and passion win every time, with or without notes.
Where do you see the future of healthcare?
The future of healthcare is taking place right in front of our eyes as the convergence of technology and medical devices is rapidly advancing. Critical areas to watch would be miniaturization of devices and incorporation of artificial intelligence. With these newer and smarter devices, healthcare professionals will be able to diagnose and treat diseases earlier, offering better outcomes for patients with chronic or acute diseases. In clinical settings where pattern visualization is key to the diagnosis and treatment, AI will make a huge impact. For example, I believe the power of AI will revolutionize gastrointestinal disease diagnosis. AI will reduce what takes multiple days to diagnose GI issues into a few hours. The future of healthcare could not be more exciting. The convergence of technology and medical devices will create many more avenues of exploration and research, allowing experts to make healthcare more efficient and effective than ever.
What advice do you have for working smarter, finding purpose and beating burnout?
My advice is to find a career and company that matches with the values that motivate and inspire you. Once you have found the right professional fit, don’t wait until you’re retired to enjoy your hobbies. Strive for a work-life balance, unplug and enjoy leisure time doing what you love outside of work. For me, it’s spending time with my wife and kids, skiing as a family in the winter, hiking in the summer, and learning “new math” together in the school year.
How is Medtronic improving clinician and patient safety?
As the world faces the unprecedented challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, Medtronic has mobilized. On a COVID-19 patient floor or ICU, COVID-19 exposure to frontline workers is a significant concern for all. To decrease risk for healthcare professionals, Medtronic is offering innovative remote technology solutions for ventilators and patient monitors to protect these workers as they continue to battle COVID-19 and help patients get back to better health. Patient monitors like pulse oximeters measure oxygen levels in patients’ blood. Medtronic’s Nellcor pulse oximeter help clinicians identify issues earlier so they can act sooner. Ventilators play a critical role in the management of patients with severe respiratory illness, such as COVID-19, who require assistance because they cannot breathe effectively. By placing a patient on a ventilator, the patient’s lungs are permitted to rest and recover while the ventilator performs the functions of supplying oxygen and simulating the actions of breathing.
What types of remote monitoring solutions have been developed and implemented? Do you envision remote monitoring solutions playing a large part in the advancement of patient care?
Medtronic is rolling out a newly developed software that enables doctors and nurses to safely manage and adjust ventilators remotely to minimize healthcare professionals direct contact with positive COVID-19 patients. The first of its kind, the Puritan Bennett 980 (PB980) ventilator now offers remote-access capability allowing healthcare workers to reduce their risk to COVID-19 exposure. As we continue to navigate COVID-19 and look towards the future, clinician and patient safety will remain, as always, our top priority. We envision more innovation surrounding remote monitoring technology, creating a safer environment for patients, healthcare professionals and their families.
In the face of COVID-19, Medtronic was able to quickly implement solutions that helped decrease risk for healthcare professionals, as well as patients. Can you share a real-world example how you achieved this?
We developed a rapid deployment solution for COVID-19 emergency preparedness for respiratory support. New York’s Jacob Javits Convention Center was never intended to be a hospital, but it was quickly turned into a 1,000 plus bed field hospital. And when Medtronic was contacted by Governor Cuomo’s office to set up remote patient monitoring, we quickly installed 400 Nellcor pulse oximetry monitors through Vital Sync continuous remote monitoring. This install typically takes weeks to months; we did it in three days. Javits Center emergency administration called remote monitoring “a game changer.” This remote monitoring allowed 400 patients to be monitored by 10 clinicians, without sacrificing patient care. Medtronic remote patient monitoring minimizes healthcare professionals direct contact with positive COVID-19 patients and conserves scarce personal protective equipment (PPE). We are aiming to make this type of rapid deployment of technology and efficiency available to any country, including those with a limited healthcare infrastructure.