As Chief Design Officer at Philips Healthcare, Sean Hughes leads the global design team, developing a broad range of world class products, interfaces, and consulting solutions to shape the future of healthcare and save lives. Over a 20+ year career across 3 continents and multiple business categories, he has built and led multidisciplinary award-winning design teams that deliver business results while maximizing the role of design as a key element of sustainable competitive advantage.
TEDMED: What’s the most remarkable innovation you are seeing in health tech or medicine, and what is driving it?
Hughes: There are a number of remarkable things happening in the health industry. One of the most fundamental ones is the rise and the breadth of digital technologies—from telecommunications, to Wi-Fi, to Bluetooth, to near field communication, to data aggregation—that are having a significant impact in healthcare and medicine. The fact that we can gather, communicate, analyze, and measure data is allowing us to think about how we might deliver care in very different way.
Another remarkable innovation for medicine is social media. The power of social media brings communities of patients and professionals together and provides them with the openness and ability to communicate. Patients are empowered now, coming to the table with their own diagnoses.
The new ways we can interact with technology is also having an impact on what we think we can do. These new interaction paradigms include very easily touch-controlled devices, voices becoming a way to navigate and better communicate, gesture control—which is the next thing in gaming, but is a way to track medical devices—and wearable technology, including smart, discrete sensors that you put in and around your body to monitor your health, lifestyle, and sleep. All of those can impact how we treat, diagnose, and care for people.
Driving all of this innovation in part are the challenges the industry is facing to deliver more care to more people at lower cost.
TEDMED: What’s the most important factor for entrepreneurial success in health tech—and is that different from your own key to success?
Hughes: What I saw in many of the Hive applicants, and what I believe is crucial to being successful, is a lot of passion and an enormous degree of self belief. Passion entails believing in your ideas and having the energy to continually push. Generally, if you’re innovating, you’re pushing against the current. In some cases it’s going to be disruptive and you have to challenge the status quo. You need a good degree of belief to convince others that this new or different way of doing things or looking at things is worthwhile so people will change their mind and follow you.
Timing is also really important. You can have a great idea, but you might be just a little bit early or ahead of the adoption curve and it will flounder. One or two years later, some other factors come to bear and you can have a massive hit.
Entrepreneurship is also about experimentation. Most successful entrepreneurs don’t often have the success with their first product or business. They’ve continued to evolve and push and it’s maybe the second or third time when they really hit the home run. Entrepreneurship is about active experimentation, risk, trial, and perseverance.
Finally, underneath it all, successful entrepreneurs possess an understanding of the market or the people they’re trying to reach.
Personally, I have a passion and desire to make a difference and that’s what I’m trying to do—to use design capabilities to help us deliver better healthcare. We passionately believe in that at Philips, which is why we’re working hard every day to create the future of healthcare.
TEDMED: For entrepreneurs with needle-moving ideas in global health, what are the keys to finding collaborators and supporters across specialties, industries, and geographies?
Hughes: Networking, networking, networking. Increasingly, the world of healthcare is an incredibly complex networked ecosystem, and you have to be actively engaged within and open to working across that network. Of course, companies who are part of or applying to be in the Hive are taking one step in that direction, and many of them had already presented their ideas in other forums before TEDMED.
In the past, maybe life was simpler. At Philips, we made equipment, sold equipment, put it into service, and gave a service contract. That paradigm has changed. Our customers are asking us to do more, we want to do more, and we believe we can add more value by moving up the value chain, including by delivering services, offering solutions, taking some of our customers’ problems away, providing care outside of the hospital, moving care into the home, and transforming how care is delivered.
But we can’t do that on our own. We need to be active in that network with new partners, governments, local authorities, startup tech companies, or whoever it might be. And we can leverage our local network to help nurture smaller companies that collaborate with us. The era of open innovation is really upon us. Because of our global reach, scale, and R&D expertise, companies like Philips have a very active role to play in collaborating with smaller and more nimble companies to provide better healthcare solutions. We don’t have all the good ideas at Philips; we’re open to working with others who have good ideas.
TEDMED: In 2020, you’re asked to give a TEDMED talk about the biggest transformation you helped bring about in your field. What is it?
Hughes: At Philips, we set ourselves a target to touch 3 billion lives per annum by 2025. That’s an audited number, not just made up, and it’s about us having a positive impact on the world. At Philips we talk about bringing innovation to you, and that’s how we’re going to measure that. We should be well on our way to achieving that by 2020.
Dreaming about what I’d say to that TEDMED audience in Washington in 2020 about what I have achieved as the chief design officer for Philips Healthcare, I’d like to be able to say we’ve been a leader in the digital transformation of care; we’ve brought care to more places and to more people; and we have a portfolio of solutions and offers across the continuum of care that help you through your healthcare journey of life, in wellness as well as clinical intervention. And we’d be able to pat ourselves on the back and say that we’ve delivered what our brand is all about, which is bringing innovation to you, the end user.