AI could boost Edwards’ critical care business

  Critical care comprises nearly 20% of Edwards’ revenue. Its continued growth is connected to […]

 

Critical care comprises nearly 20% of Edwards’ revenue. Its continued growth is connected to the prominence of the company’s heart valve business.

Katie Szyman spent 23 years helping develop Medtronic into a giant in the industry, but a patient-focused outlook became a driving force behind a change for her.

Wanting to work for a California-based company “focused on the patient and innovation” led Szyman to where she is now — a corporate VP and the GM of critical care at Edwards Lifesciences (NYSE:EW).

“I just liked the smaller family feel of Edwards,” Szyman told Medical Design & Outsourcing. “I’m happy to come to Edwards, where I can continue to be part of something where we’re making a difference in the world.”

Szyman joined Edwards in 2015 and runs the critical care business, which brings in around $800 million in revenue and operates with about 500 employees, developing monitoring technologies for ICUs and high-risk surgical situations. Edwards’ critical care business is also working on “smart recovery,” Szyman said, applying artificial intelligence and predictive algorithms to aid clinicians in decision-making, among other things.

Szyman said Edwards is developing an algorithm called hypotension prediction, which predicts severe, low blood pressure events about 5-10 minutes in advance to help clinicians take action early.

“We’re really focused on being that window to digital health for Edwards,” Szyman said.

While Edwards is a major player in the valve business, particularly in the burgeoning TAVR (transcatheter aortic valve replacement) space, Szyman is playing her part in bringing the Irvine, Calif.-based company’s critical care business forward, too.

Szyman said critical care comprises nearly 20% of Edwards’ revenues and its continued growth is connected to the prominence of the company’s valve business.

“When a patient gets a valve, they need to be monitored,” Szyman said. “Over time, you can envision that there are less and less invasive ways to monitor patients and help reduce the stay and complications they would have.

“We try to be linked as much as possible to the valve business for us to enable the platform for growth in the future.”

Upon graduating from college with an accounting degree, Szyman spent three years as an auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers before seeking a change.

The native of St. Paul, Minn., decided to use her finance skills in a different field altogether, starting at a local company that is now one of the giants of the medtech industry — Medtronic (NYSE:MDT).

“I just wanted to be able to take my finance skills and apply them in an industry where I felt like I could make a difference in the world,” Szyman said. “I was really passionate about being in something that mattered or something that made a difference in peoples’ lives.”

Szyman joined Medtronic in 1991 when it was collecting under $1 billion in revenue with about 4,000 employees. When she left 23 years later, it was pulling in $27 billion in revenue with 85,000 employees.

She held finance roles before becoming CFO of Medtronic’s coronary stent business, then working with mergers and acquisitions before moving into general management work. Her final role at Medtronic was president of its diabetes business.

From Medtronic to Edwards, two big names in medtech, Szyman has covered plenty of ground in the industry. Over that time, despite being a woman rising through the ranks in a male-dominated industry, Szyman said she hardly noticed.

“I was raised with three brothers and they made me very competitive and they made it so I have pretty thick skin, so I never really noticed if I was the only woman in the room,” Szyman said. “I would now say that probably 90% of the time, I was the only woman in the room.

“For me, it was never really about being a woman or a man. It was just about whether I was focused and doing a good job. If you stay focused on the patients, you can just do a great job, be passionate and make a difference.”

At the request of Edwards CEO Michael Mussallem, Szyman became the executive sponsor of Edwards’ network of women. When she took that role five years ago, the network had about 200 women. Today, there are about 2,700 women enrolled.

As a board member of the American Heart Association, Szyman also helps put organize events to encourage middle school girls to look at the STEM area of education in an effort to excite young women about STEM and show them paths to fields like engineering.

“It’s really important to have these networks to provide support, training and education so women can maximize their strengths,” Szyman said.

As for the next wave of women coming through the STEM fields, whether they find their footing in accounting like Szyman or follow the engineering path, the Edwards GM of critical care believes “the best innovation comes with diversity of thoughts and diversity of perspective.”

Following your passion, doing what you love and pursuing those things are the driving forces behind success, she said.

“I think medtech is an unbelievably attractive space for women in the future,” Szyman said. “For people coming in after me, you can do it right. Go for it.”

 
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