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by Medtronic LABS

A Conversation With Oren Ombiro, Head of Research and Policy, Africa

At Medtronic LABS, we are committed to improving healthcare access and delivering measurably positive patient outcomes for underserved populations, and we are proud to have Oren Ombiro as our Head of Research and Policy in Africa. Oren is a highly respected leader in the healthcare industry, with extensive experience developing policies, strategies, and solutions that address the unique challenges facing diverse African healthcare systems.

Our mission is to leverage technology and innovation to empower healthcare providers and improve patient outcomes, and Oren’s expertise has been critical to achieving this goal. Through this article, we are thrilled to share Oren’s insights and perspectives on some of the most pressing issues facing healthcare in Africa today.

Can you tell us about your professional experience and how you joined the Medtronic LABS team?

My professional journey has mostly revolved around public health and programming, but it wasn’t something I had initially considered as a career path. Initially, when I thought about my career, I envisioned practicing medicine in a clinical setting. And after a brief stint in a clinical environment, I was promoted to the role of District Medical Officer. This new role focused on primary health programming, which included some primary health functions and a leadership role. I created some health systems portfolios, which helped me gain experience, knowledge, and interest regarding the public health space.

My interest in the public health space was truly sparked during my time in this role. The kind of impact we could make on a daily basis from a public health standpoint excited me. Overseeing clinical guidelines that intersected with over 20,000 processes in a country and countless communities as a result was so much more impactful than what I could do for just a few individuals.

My shift into public health came about after that experience, and I worked in that field for about four years. After that, I had a brief stint working at the organizational level before I moved to the national level at the Ministry of Health. During my time there, I supported the development and implementation of national policies, strategic plans, developmental screenings, training, and monetary and evaluation tools. I worked on that for over three years before transitioning to the NGO world. In the NGO world, I focused on supporting the Ministry of Health with dignity through primary health care, NCDs, and communicable conditions, supported by data.

Then, after that, the opportunity to work at Medtronic LABS presented itself, and given the state of my career, it was exactly what I wanted. I knew it would bring further opportunities for me to make a measurable impact on the lives of underserved communities.

Can you tell us about Medtronic LABS’s work and the initiatives you’re involved with?

Of course. My current role at Medtronic LABS encompasses three main components:

  • Clinical: I review our clinical algorithms to ensure they are up-to-date with the latest evidence, corporate best practices, and country guidelines. I also work on the development of new clinical areas, such as mental health and child health, by creating clinical workflows and algorithms. Additionally, I help develop patient education materials in partnership with the governments and professional associations we work with. Clinical training and the development of support tools are also part of my responsibilities.
  • Data: As a data-driven organization, I ensure that our clinical metrics are well-structured and support evidence generation and data analysis. I also work at the facility level to ensure that patient care is data-driven and that we generate the most impact for our partners and patients. Obtaining the evidence we need to demonstrate the efficacy of our innovations is crucial to our ability to continually grow our impact.
  • Policy + Advocacy: I support the governments we work with by developing policies and frameworks based on our experiences and expertise. For example, we are currently assisting Rwanda with a review of their NCD guidelines, Sierra Leone in developing NCD guidelines, and Kenya with their own guidelines. By supporting the development of policies and clinical guidelines, we aim to collaboratively improve patient-level outcomes.

What are some of the organization’s upcoming initiatives that excite you?

Something that excites me about our upcoming initiatives is the expansion into other disease domains beyond hypertension and diabetes. We are looking into disease domains that require more intricate tracking and management. For instance, we are deploying a mental health module, and what excites me most is that community health workers will have access to SPICE, our innovative technology platform. This will help make a community-level impact and raise awareness for mental health issues. We are also deploying an HIV-NCD integration, as it is common for hypertension or diabetes to accompany HIV.

What’s important to me is that the world is moving away from seeing patients through a “disease lens” to seeing people as whole human beings. We are looking at patients from a realistic standpoint, not just about their diseases but other social determinants of their condition. This shift in mindset is an exciting point for the organization as we expand our core offerings.

We are also working on additional clinical support tools for workers at the primary care level, which will enhance our technology to facilitate better patient care and outcomes. Leveraging technology to address patients holistically is another exciting aspect of our upcoming initiatives.

What inspired you to join an organization like Medtronic LABS?

I have always been fascinated by technology and digital health, particularly in how they can be used to address quality of care challenges. Medtronic LABS stood out to me because it aligns with my background in strengthening health systems and “spices” it up (get it?) with digital health.

The organization is constantly innovating and leveraging technology to drive sustainable transformation in healthcare, which is what drew me to it. While there are many short-term projects in digital health, I believe sustainable, long-term transformation is crucial, and Medtronic LABS shares that vision.

So, what else makes Medtronic LABS unique from similar organizations?

One of the unique features of Medtronic LABS is the end-to-end nature of its programs, which covers the entire patient journey from the community to the facility and back to the community, supported by patient support features such as telecounseling. The platform that connects everything together, from the household to the community to the facility, is also a differentiator. Medtronic LABS has a robust platform that can risk-stratify patients at every stage of their journey, facilitate targeted follow-ups, and track outcomes in real-time using technology and visualization.

The ability to track outcomes in real time is a key feature, as it allows us to make decisions quickly and in the best interest of patients. The platform also tracks other aspects of the patient journey, such as how many patients have been linked to care, how many have accessed care, and how many are being treated. This personalized process ensures that each patient receives individualized care, and the platform learns more about patients over time to better serve them.

Medtronic LABS considers many factors when determining the care to recommend for a patient, including age, gender, BMI, tobacco use, blood pressure, and other variable aspects. The platform also looks at health insurance data to understand which patients have insurance and what they might have covered under said insurance. This informs policy decisions and helps clinicians make more informed choices based on social aspects tracked across the patient journey. Overall, the end-to-end nature of the programs, the ability to track outcomes in real-time, and the personalized, data-driven approach to care are some of the features that make Medtronic LABS unique.

What would you say is the most rewarding part of your work?

The most rewarding part of my work is seeing our programs’ impact on patient quality of life. It’s incredibly satisfying to hear patient stories of how their quality of life has improved through access to care facilitated through our programs. Some patients have had to travel long distances just to get a blood pressure check, but now they can do it at their household or a nearby site.

Our programs help support clinics in local health centers, providing more access to care for those who need it. It’s also fulfilling to help people recognize they’re living with a non-communicable disease and enroll them into care before they face complications associated with those conditions. Having seen patients deal with complications who are diagnosed too late, it’s rewarding to see how screening and early diagnosis can make a difference.

What are the most challenging facets of your work?

The challenges of implementation can be daunting. Some things are outside our control, such as when the facility lacks the resources or when the patient cannot afford the necessary nutrition or medication to live a healthy life. The health systems challenges we encounter can be frustrating, but we view them as opportunities to innovate and find ways to better meet our patients’ needs.

For example, we have used SPICE to improve commodity forecasting and distribution to health centers. We have worked to improve insurance coverage in the health centers we collaborate with so that patients can access care. We are constantly innovating to better serve the communities we engage.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention that we haven’t touched on already?

Thank you for asking. I think we’ve covered most of it, but I’d like to emphasize the importance of long-term sustainability. We aim to achieve initiatives and patient outcomes that can be sustained over time. To do this, we co-create our programs with governments, facilities, and patients. By incorporating their lived experiences and learnings, we can tailor our programs to meet their needs and ensure long-term sustainability. Collaboration is crucial in deploying our programs effectively.

Harnessing collaboration and innovative technology to spur better patient outcomes

We hope you enjoyed this interview with Medtronic LABS Head of Research and Policy in Africa, Oren Ombiro. Through his expertise in healthcare policy, research, and innovation, Oren provides deeply valuable insights into the future of healthcare in Africa, the role of technology in healthcare delivery, and how Medtronic LABS is addressing healthcare challenges in the region. We hope that Oren’s insights have been thought-provoking and informative, and we remain committed to our mission of improving healthcare outcomes for patients across Africa.

If you enjoyed reading this conversation, please share it with your network. You can read our previous team member Q&As on our blog, along with other exciting insights and stories. Stay tuned for more team profiles 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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