Jul 13, 2022

Medtronic LABS’ road to reimagining global healthcare

From grassroots effort to over 40,000 lives improved – and growing

It all started with a question, posed by former Medtronic Chairman and CEO Omar Ishrak. What if we could address the health issues of people in underserved communities around the world?

The idea for Medtronic LABS was born.

Medtronic LABS patients in Kenya gather for peer education.

Today, LABS is an independent Medtronic-funded nonprofit organization that accelerates healthcare access for underserved communities around the world through technology.

But back in 2012, when Ishrak first posed his pivotal question, no one could have predicted what LABS would become.

It takes a village

Today, LABS’ focus in sub-Saharan Africa is to reduce noncommunicable diseases like hypertension and diabetes, but in the beginning, Medtronic employees were looking into creating solutions for heart failure.

Keith Holloman, a Principal Clinical Researcher, went to Ghana and started conducting interviews.

“The first step is understanding the needs of the people you’re trying to serve,” he said. “As a result of that, we determined the root cause of the heart failure we were seeing was hypertension.”

Keith was one of dozens of employees across Medtronic – from clinical researchers and engineers to marketers – that volunteered their time to design solutions for underserved populations.

Keith Holloman pictured with Eric Angula and patients.

“All these people believed in this and provided their expertise because they wanted to,” Holloman said. “They put a lot of sweat equity into it.”

The project he worked on became the foundation for the digital healthcare platform LABS is now using.

“They contributed significantly throughout the years by supporting design thinking and tech evolution,” said Eric Angula, a former Medtronic employee who now heads partnerships and government affairs for Medtronic LABS.

Since its inception, LABS has screened close to 1.2 million patients, trained over 3,000 community health workers, and improved over 40,000 lives.

Holloman attributes the success to human-centered design.

“I’m not surprised at how much it’s grown because the foundation the tech was built upon was understanding the communities, so we didn’t try to give people something they didn’t need,” he said.

LABS combines digital technology, field operations, and partnerships to work toward its mission of expanding access to healthcare for patients, families, and communities across the world. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it has deep Medtronic roots. 

“The core of the Medtronic Mission to use technology to alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life applies to everybody in the world,” Ishrak, who serves on LABS’ board, said.

‘Just getting started’

To see where LABS is headed, look no further than its work in Kenya, where hypertension and diabetes affect millions.

LABS recently announced that it is expanding its Empower Health program from six counties to the entire country.

A clinician in Kenya uses LABS' digital healthcare platform in a patient visit.

The technology platform — that employees like Holloman helped create — is part of what makes LABS so effective. LABS also forges strong partnerships in the public and private sector, all while connecting patients to care through a network of community health workers.

LABS’s work in Kenya is a model for how the health systems innovator can scale into Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Ghana, and other African countries — with sights set on the global stage.

The organization is also expanding its work to address any condition requiring long-term patient-centered management, including tuberculosis, HIV, mental health, and pregnancy.

“We’re talking about hundreds of millions of people that could potentially be impacted,”

 said Ruchika Singhal, President of Medtronic LABS. “We’re just getting started.”

Hear more about Medtronic LABS from Singhal on the MedtronicTalks podcast below.