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by Medtronic LABS

A Conversation With Head of Technology, Kelly Shelden | Medtronic LABS

At the core of our purpose at Medtronic LABS is our deeply held belief in the essential role that cross-sector collaboration plays in bringing measurable, life-saving care to the vulnerable communities we serve.

What we don’t often highlight is that this passion also extends internally, with the different teams and disciplines within our organization constantly communicating, iterating, and learning from one another.

As a technology-driven organization, no one exemplifies collaboration and teamwork more than our Head of Technology, Kelly Shelden.

We recently spoke with Ms. Shelden, and she shared with us the genesis of our technology platforms, her personal connection to the unique challenges of global health, and the joy she feels working with such a dynamic, collaborative team.

Read the full Q&A below.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us today. Tell us, what does your role at LABS involve? What is a typical day like for you?

One of my favorite things about my role at Medtronic LABS is that no two days are the same!

That said, I usually describe what I do here in four main buckets: product management, team management, field software support, and data privacy and security.

Under product management, we have four distinct products that make up our SPICE portfolio: our core application SPICE, SPICE Engage, SPICE Insights, and SPICE Connect.

Depending on a product’s phase, we’re constantly workshopping new features, reviewing user stories, and collaborating across teams.

I also manage our software engineering team. We work with a vendor partner, which keeps me busy managing our core platform.

For the third bucket, field software support, I interface with field operations teams and optimize the linkage between our tech/product teams and our in-field teams. Thanks to this initiative, we have deployed SPICE to thousands of users.

And number four ensures we’re keeping up with data privacy and security requirements. Data privacy and security are incredibly important to us as an organization, and we build our software with privacy and security by design. 

Right now, I’m quite focused on our SPICE Insights product. Our field users have told us they want deeper insights into their patients’ status, and we are building more data visualizations, so I’m focused on developing that alongside our data engineering team.

What inspired you to join Medtronic LABS? What was your career path before your current role?

Many things aligned for me to have the chance to come to LABS as Head of Technology. 

Before LABS, I had a career in software development and product management at our parent company, Medtronic. Before joining LABS, I worked in Medtronic’s remote patient monitoring sector. I was able to bring over a lot of insights from that work to my current role.

But my interest in global health goes way back. I grew up internationally and was exposed to many global health disparities from a young age. 

During my senior year of university, I was a part of a team that built an Android application for diagnosing childhood illnesses aimed at underserved communities. It opened my eyes to see how technology could improve access and quality of care.

After completing my undergrad, I decided to pursue a career path more aligned with my engineering training rather than my experiences in global health. At Medtronic, I built, launched, and scaled various applications; without those experiences, I wouldn’t have been as well-equipped to take on my current role. 

My position here at LABS allows me to bring all of my academic and life experiences together seamlessly. I had both the context and understanding of global health, but more than that, I understood what it took to design and build software. 

Medtronic LABS is, of course, a technology organization. But we’re very focused on patient outcomes and the personal story behind the data. How unique in our industry is our approach to harnessing technology?

Medtronic LABS is incredibly unique. We’re one of the only organizations that’s both an implementer and a technology provider. A lot of other organizations are either one or the other. They need to partner with organizations that work on the other side. 

At LABS, at least historically, we’ve done both. Technology is at the core of our model. We have a product with technology at its core, overlaying with point-of-care diagnostic kits, which overlay with field experts, health workers, and so on. All of these critical components enable that end-to-end patient experience and journey. 

We look for opportunities in the patient journey for technology to be an enabler; for us to use the technology to simplify data entry and build co-decision support systems. We also look for different points within that patient journey where employing a tech-driven solution will improve patient outcomes. 

For now, one of our priorities is optimizing follow-up assessments for enrolled patients. LABS’s mission is, as you mentioned, outcomes-driven. We can’t measure outcomes without having patients come back for follow-up appointments. By applying technology solutions, we strive to make follow-up assessments easier and give ourselves access to the outcomes-focused data that we need to demonstrate the impact of our programs. 

Can you tell me more about how your technology streamlines the end-to-end patient journey?

Definitely. For example, if a patient needs to be screened for hypertension or diabetes, we have a process where they can be referred to a health center to get a confirmatory diagnosis.

This is the crux of the application–it uses a risk-based algorithm to assess a patient’s check-in frequency and follow-up schedules.

The algorithm is the core differentiator for SPICE. We’ve digitized the WHO’s HEARTS algorithm, which was built to stratify patients based on cardiovascular risk. The risk score generates a patients’ treatment plan through the SPICE program.

Our technology focuses on the highest-risk patients first but also generates these treatment plans to reduce the burden on facilities and community health workers to prioritize and stagger their follow-ups based on data.

SPICE Engage also enables tele-counsellors to reach out to patients at key points in their journey to encourage them to seek care or, if they’re already in the program, to remind them to get assessed. 

Many other tech companies focus on data collection, management, and reporting—they’re not necessarily geared toward outcomes. They lack the collaboration between technology and fieldwork that is the foundation of all we do here at LABS.

Lastly, what are some of the most rewarding parts of your work at Medtronic LABS? How about the challenges?

Thinking about challenges, it’s a very fast-paced field, with new changes and opportunities each day. It can be challenging to keep all of that straight and manage what’s become a complex product portfolio. There are always lots of ideas and concepts to explore, but sometimes, we have to say “no” to an exciting concept that just doesn’t fit our purpose.

I can’t choose just one reward, I need to give you two!

The best reward is the patient stories we get from our field teams and facility staff who use our programs. Since our focus is driving measurable impact, hearing the wonderful success stories from “on the ground” is highly motivating. 

Second, because we’re a mission-driven organization, there’s so much alignment between different teams and individuals. Collaboration and grit, two of our core values, make it an enjoyable and challenging workplace to be a part of. 

Everyone here is extremely talented and works at a very high level. We’re inherently collaborative. It’s fun to come to work and develop solutions and designs that deliver real-world impacts. We’re solving complex challenges that no other organization has faced. But working with such an energetic group of people makes the work extra rewarding.

Thanks so much for your time again. Do you have anything else you’d like to say?

Oh, of course, you’re so welcome. I just want to reiterate the exceptional collaboration we see between our teams daily. We have many different stakeholders—including users and patients–with many different backgrounds and perspectives. I love how we always bring together as many teams as possible to tackle a problem. I believe that part of our culture is what really sets us apart.

Measurable outcomes achieved through collaboration

We hope you enjoyed this Q&A session with Medtronic LABS Head of Technology, Kelly Shelden. 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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