Becton Dickinson CEO Tom Pollen discusses how AI could revolutionize healthcare

If you’ve been to the 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 almost guarantee that someone watching this today was excited about the BD product,” Pollen said at a Johns Hopkins Health Policy Forum event on Tuesday. “Any tube that’s ever had blood in it or a needle in your hand, it’s very, very likely a BD product. If you’ve ever had an injection or vaccination, it’s most likely a BD syringe.”

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

Polen 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.

“That experience really gave me a first-hand look at health care,” Polen said. “That’s when I really committed that I wanted to make a difference in improving healthcare.”

Pollen now faces all of the most pressing health care challenges, including global supply chain issues, geopolitical instability and high patient costs.

“To do well, we really need to make sure that our innovations are aligned with the needs of the local markets that we’re participating in,” Polen said. “Lower cost healthcare is closer to where patients want it. They are great investment areas [BD]”.

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

“[BD is] is really focused on capitalizing on the technological revolution happening right now. It’s a huge opportunity,” he said. “Getting the right diagnosis when AI is a physician’s companion … it 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 attention from their doctors.

However, he also acknowledged that implementing new technologies too quickly can be dangerous for both the business and the consumer.

“When it comes to patients and artificial intelligence, there certainly needs to be safeguards in place. That’s why we don’t want to rush AI out. 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 progress happening here.”

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

  • Anthony Fauci, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (October 2020)
  • Rochelle P. Walensky, Med ’95 (MD), ’98 (PGF), director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the height of the COVID pandemic (May, 2021)
  • Robert M. Davis, Merck Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (October 2021)
  • Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, Administrator, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (January 2022)
  • Atul Gawande, Assistant Director, USAID Bureau of Global Health (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, Executive Director, American Association for the Advancement of Science (July 2023)

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

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