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by Medtronic LABS

A Conversation With Chief Operating Officer, Kaustubh Bhatnagar | Medtronic LABS

We’re likely all familiar with the expression, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Outstanding achievements take time, patience, and a steadfast dedication to a vision and purpose.

For over three years now, Medtronic LABS has provided community-based, on-the-ground care and treatment for non-communicable diseases in some of the world’s most underserved communities. In that time, we have made a lasting, measurable impact on the lives of those we serve.

There are many exceptional people whose leadership and talent have made that possible. This month we would like to introduce you to one of them: our Chief Operating Officer, Kaustubh Bhatnagar
Recently, we sat down with Mr. Bhatnagar to discuss his professional journey, vision for the organization, and key lessons from working with Medtronic LABS.

Read the full Q&A below.

Tell us about your role at Medtronic LABS.

I’m the Chief Operating Officer, meaning I oversee the organization’s operations anywhere we operate. Right now, that’s mainly India and Africa, and that’ll extend to wherever we go next.

Establishing the core fundamentals of the organization is a central function of my role. I believe we must clearly define what is required in setting up the organization’s structures and how to find the right people for the work that needs to be done.

What inspired you to work at Medtronic LABS?

Before Medtronic LABS, I had a conventional med-tech career. I worked with some global Asia-Pacific companies with very traditional and hierarchical structures.

About six years ago, the opportunity to work with Medtronic LABS came up. I quickly gravitated toward the startup culture we have here. It’s very entrepreneurial. Very teamwork-oriented.

I was thrilled at the opportunity to do meaningful work to help patients in dire need. We’re part of Medtronic, but the models we’re building are completely fresh and tailored to meet the unique needs of underserved communities.

We’re truly building something relevant and measurable for the vulnerable populations we serve.

What are some of the highlights of your time so far?

Well, in the last six months, we’ve catalyzed many exciting developments.

We’re now active across five countries in Middle Africa: Kenya, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Ghana, and Tanzania

The top priority in establishing our operations has been setting up entities and business operations and hiring the teams to run operations in these greenfield countries.

What that’s allowed us to do is become the single largest NCD management program on the African continent. I think that’s something we should be proud of. We now operate at an impressive scale: close to 160,000 patients are managed on our platform. 

But this is just a small beginning of where we want to go. And it’s not just about getting numbers on our platform. We do this work to ensure that every single person our programs touch gets better or feels some kind of meaningful improvement in their health condition. 

We’re excited by the prospect of improving their lives. It’s what drives us every day.

What would you say is the most rewarding part of your work at Medtronic LABS? What have been some of the challenges?

It’s tough to pick. I’d have to say it’s the personal connections. In any regular job, especially in healthcare, it can be hard to pinpoint a connection between your work and how it impacts the patient at the end of the day.

In our work and my role, I see that if I don’t take action today, that may prevent a set of people from getting the care they need. There’s a direct correlation between our work and the end user. Our day-to-day work actually impacts the lives of people in need.

The main challenge is building a sustainable organization. External factors are always changing, and we consistently pivot our strategy to fit the needs of patients. But to do that, we need to build an organization with a lot of knowledge and core competency that builds over time—and have people that stay over time and build those knowledge bases together.

Can you share more about that? What are some of the external factors, and how does Medtronic LABS build long-lasting partnerships?

Healthcare is exceptionally dynamic – there are multiple stakeholders in the value chain of healthcare delivery, such as government ministries of health. And their regulations are ever-changing. There are a lot of protectionist ideas around health data and which companies should be working on the healthcare of their citizens. 

We approach these ministries in ways that are unique to us. First and foremost, we’ve built a team that’s LOCAL. Our largest employee bases are on the ground in the regions we’re working in. That really gives assurance to local governments that we’re here to stay. We’re not just trying to tell them what to do. We have people who are in the region and understand the challenges and nuances. 

The second thing we focus on is long-term partnerships. Our timelines aren’t just a few months. We do things in the context of “years” because we know that’s what it takes for health systems to strengthen. We’re not here to sell a service but to strengthen the existing health system. It’s not transient or setting up a new health system. We’re here to fortify the existing system so that when we exit, the existing government can provide the same service we provided when we were there. 

We invest a lot in integrating with existing health systems. We’re part of working group communities in all the countries we’re in, where we gain a better understanding of what’s working and what’s not – it takes time, and we prepare ourselves for long investment and long presence. 

The partnership ecosystem is very dynamic. COVID shifted the entire focus of healthcare, moving it from hospital-based to community-based care. The ecosystem is dynamic in terms of “Where’s the focus? Where is the fund flow? Where are resources being allocated?”

Also, patients and their behavior. Economic challenges impact how much a patient can focus on their health, so health-seeking behavior in itself is very dynamic.

You mentioned the long-term approach to partnerships and building local teams as unique to Medtronic LABS. How else do you stand out from other organizations?

We operate on a hybrid model of being part of a large multinational organization while being a separate legal entity. This model allows us to bring the best of both worlds. 

We have a deep understanding of both healthcare systems and business operations. All the corporate know-how is very transferable from Medtronic. But at the same time, we adapt those principles to meet the needs of a particular region. There are actually no other entities in the space that enjoy this duality.

Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share?

Yes, definitely. I believe it’s critical to understand that the commitment over time from Medtronic is not trivial. Medtronic LABS has really come into its own over the last 2-3 years, but Medtronic has been at it for a decade. There’s a lot of investment, trial and error, failures, and triumphs that we’ve learned from to reach the stage we’re at today. While we’ve seen tremendous success over the last few years, it’s also important to acknowledge the work that’s been done over the previous ten years that helped us get here. 

It’s rare to find entities that operate on this timeline. Many organizations run out of patience much earlier. The commitment to seeing this vision come to fruition is unique, and it’s a vision that I am very proud to be a part of.

A united team with common goals

We hope you enjoyed this Q&A session with Medtronic LABS Chief Operating Officer, Kaustubh Bhatnagar. Stay tuned for more team profile features in the coming weeks and months.

To get in touch with us, please visit our contact page. Together, we can transform global healthcare systems and deliver essential care to those in need.

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