Becton Dickinson CEO Tom Pollen discusses how AI could revolutionize healthcare

If you’ve been to a hospital, then you’re familiar with the work of Tom Pollen, Bus ’03 (MBA). Pollen is chairman, CEO and president of Becton, Dickinson and Company (BD), which manufactures and sells more than 38 billion medical devices annually, which are then used by more than 90% of US hospital patients.

“I pretty much guarantee that anyone watching this today has been touched by a BD product,” Pollen said at a Johns Hopkins Health Policy Forum event on Tuesday. “Every tube you’ve ever had blood drawn from or needle in your arm is very, very likely a BD product. If you’ve ever had an injection or vaccination, it’s very likely a BD syringe.’

With 43,000 products in use in more than 190 countries, BD—and by extension Polen—has long been at the forefront of medical technology innovation. During Tuesday’s event, Pollen discussed his experience running a multinational company with Carey Business School Dean Alex Triantis, engaging in conversations about artificial intelligence, health care issues and Pollen’s personal story.

Pollen was first introduced to the medical industry at the age of 13 when he witnessed his 35-year-old mother suffer from an unexpected, fatal brain aneurysm.

“This experience really gave me a first-hand look at health care,” Pollen said. “At that point, I really committed to wanting to make a difference in improving health care.”

Pollen now finds himself facing all of healthcare’s most pressing challenges, including global supply chain issues, geopolitical instability and high patient costs.

“To do good, we really need to make sure our innovations are aligned with the needs of the local markets we’re in,” Pollen said. “Healthcare at a lower cost, closer to where patients want it. These are great areas of investment [BD].”

Pollen also discussed the huge potential for artificial intelligence in healthcare, which he said could help doctors with everything from counting pills to diagnosing patients. BD already sells several products that incorporate or are enabled with AI technology, including ones that can monitor drug abuse and identify bacteria.

“[BD is] really focused on capitalizing on the technology revolution that’s happening right now. That’s a huge opportunity,” he said. “Getting the right diagnosis when AI is a physician’s companion … that will improve outcomes.”

From Pollen’s point of view, doctors spend too much time on basic tasks like entering information into a computer. Automation can free up that time, reducing physician burnout and giving patients more one-on-one attention from their doctors.

However, he also acknowledged that deploying new technology too quickly can be dangerous for both businesses and consumers.

“When it comes to patients and AI, there certainly have to be safeguards. That’s why we don’t want to rush out the AI. We want to do it the right way,” Pollen said. “I’m really optimistic that we’re all going to figure it out, and I’m already seeing a lot of great progress happening here.”

Pollen is the 10th panelist to participate in the Health Policy Forum series, which launched in fall 2020 to highlight the university’s engagement with key leaders on health policy and health care issues. Previous events featured:

  • Anthony Fauci, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (October 2020)
  • Rochelle P. Walensky, MD ’95 (MD), ’98 (PGF), director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the height of the COVID pandemic (May 2021)
  • Robert M. Davis, Chairman and CEO of Merck (October 2021)
  • Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, Administrator, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (January 2022)
  • Atul Gawande, Assistant Administrator for the Bureau of Global Health at the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID (April 2022)
  • Donna Shalala, Former HHS Secretary and Member of Congress (June 2022)
  • Xavier Becerra, Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services (December 2022)
  • Michelle Lujan Grisham, 32nd Governor of New Mexico (May 2023)
  • Sudeep Parikh, CEO, American Association for the Advancement of Science (July 2023)

The Health Policy Forum Series is co-organized by the Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Carey School of Business, the School of Nursing, and Johns Hopkins Medicine.

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