Digital Health Talent Report: Part 4

As the final installment in our Digital Health Talent Report series, we surveyed R&D executives to gather their insights on hiring leaders responsible for Digital Health initiatives. We covered the same topics as when we surveyed Business leaders, now providing a view into the perspectives of R&D leaders.


We spoke with:

  • JP Onffroy – VP, Flexible Robotics R&D at J&J MedTech
  • Ganesh Mayya – SVP, Software Engineering, Imaging at GE HealthCare
  • Manish Deshpande – former VP, Decentralized Care & Digital Services, Point of Care Diagnostics at Siemens Healthineers


Biggest learnings within the last 12 months

In his current role at J&J and previous role at Philips, coming before that from Dell and IBM, JP has realized there is a dearth of digital talent in the medical device industry. Exasperating this issue is the need to “bring people across the chasm” from Tech into Medical Device, as well as the fact that “healthcare is competing with every other industry for those people.” JP explains that “bringing people across the chasm” from High Tech to Med Tech involves both bringing new employees over to a very different industry with specific customers, trends, and regulations, as well as bringing internal stakeholders across the chasm of accepting and embracing the hiring of someone “from outside.”

Given how fast technology is currently evolving, Ganesh’s biggest learning over the last 12 months has been: “finding leaders who will keep themselves up to date, and who are constantly thinking about ‘how do I apply these new concepts and technologies to solve healthcare challenges.” In essence, leaders who are only thinking about technology advancements without clear application to an unmet clinical needs, as well as those who are focused solely on healthcare problems but are not thinking enough about how new technology can enable the development of solutions, will not cut it in today’s highly competitive market.

For Manish, his view now is that the onus on hiring has “shifted towards being more savvy on the digital side than on the healthcare side.” His perspective is that digital innovation is accelerating and physical device innovation, in some areas, will decelerate, leading to a paradigm shift in what’s needed from a know-how and experiences standpoint with respect to R&D leaders in healthcare.


Hiring talent from outside the healthcare industry

JP believes hiring talent from outside the healthcare industry is vital. He notes that, when it comes to digital capabilities, “healthcare doesn’t have enough of this DNA yet.” That said, he acknowledges the risks associated with bringing people over to the MedTech sector. JP argues one useful way to assess whether people can make this transition successfully is by assessing whether they have “established a track record of learning” – meaning, have they “taken on significantly varied roles in their career to prove they can cross chasms?”

Ganesh’s stance is that it depends on the role. In certain positions, “the outside perspective and ability to apply models that have worked in other industries” can be a major advantage. However, in other positions, “having the domain expertise is helpful to be able to apply technology to solve our problems.” Ganesh expands on this, claiming that roles focused on infrastructure and back-end technologies can really benefit from outside perspective and experience, while roles that deal with the directly customer-facing side of products often value relevant industry experience.

Aligned with his views on the future of innovation in healthcare, Manish feels that, with the exception of the most senior executive positions, hiring from outside the industry, particularly from Tech, in R&D will be highly valuable. Manish makes a thought-provoking point: “the basic aim of the biggest innovation trends in healthcare is to replace the standard of care.” His point, it seems, is, how can we expect to achieve such leaps by employing only leaders who helped establish this current standard?


Advice for hiring managers

While each of the three leaders’ answers overlapped with respect to mistakes to avoid in hiring Digital Health talent, they also each offered unique insights.

JP advises hiring managers to “scratch under the surface” when they see buzzwords on resumes, like “cloud,” “SaaS,” or “AI.” He notes the importance of understanding what candidates are referring to, the products, the initiatives they were involved in, and such, when they use those terms.

Ganesh mentioned that ensuring the person you’re hiring has experience operating at a comparable scope and scale to what they’ll be doing on your team is imperative. He asks, when someone claims to have “transformed an entire organization,” what does that actually mean? He states, for example, that “things that work for 10 people, may not work for 700 people.”

Manish emphasized the need to hire people with “a mindset that allows you to pivot.” He promotes finding people “who know what the risks are, but who are very, very fast at decision-making and pivoting.” He suggests avoiding leaders for Digital Health roles that might struggle with this.


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