How Tech Innovation Fueled Johnson & Johnson’s Pandemic Response

By  |  June 2, 2021, 6:48 PM  |  Techonomy Exclusive


A culture that invests in healthcare innovation

The challenges of the pandemic spurred uncharacteristic agility and digital transformation in large corporations, Johnson & Johnson’s Enterprise CIO Jim Swanson told the audience at the recent Health+Wealth of America, hosted by CDX, Techonomy, and Worth. Swanson said that at Johnson & Johnson, the company’s culture of “great science, great data, great mission” coupled with the urgency of COVID-19, presented new opportunities to apply technology with empathy to advance human health and health equity. “What was beautiful to see,” he said, “was how a company can come together with common goals and common outcomes, and technology played a significant role in advancing towards our mission.” 

While this digital acceleration might slow in the future, the response to the pandemic has “really opened the aperture as to what’s possible,” he continued. Swanson underscored that this is inspiring people across the company to leverage tech and innovation with urgency to confront the world’s biggest healthcare challenges, care for patients, ensure safety of employees and healthcare professionals, and give back to the communities it serves.

Using technology to solve complex healthcare challenges

At the onset of the pandemic, the supply chains that were critical for the distribution of life-saving machines, PPE, and other medical equipment began shutting down as countries closed their borders. Johnson & Johnson found that a heavy reliance on AI and data science helped to quickly and creatively find alternative channels and ensure timely delivery. Such tools have also been essential in ensuring employee safety, he explained, by virtualizing experiences.

J&J has leveraged augmented reality tools like Google Glass to help supervisors in our manufacturing and virtual reality solutions supporting physician training (e.g., orthopedics).

The pandemic drove the telehealth movement and pushed health care professionals and consumers to embrace technology, Swanson said. One positive outcome of operating electronically is that it frees up doctors’ time and increases their ability to scale their impact, giving more time for each patient and enabling them to learn about new products and procedures more quickly. Swanson sees an evolution in the way both patients and physicians are finding the right hybrid balance to optimize health care relationships: “I think we’re really starting to reimagine how we think about [health care] – it doesn’t replace the in-person visits but enhances it. And I think we’ll actually be able to, over time, deliver better quality of care.” 

He underscored the importance of machine learning and other technologies in tackling a number of other wide-ranging challenges across the company. For example, applying robotics and AI to digital surgery after collecting data from thousands of the similar procedures can drastically improve the outcomes going forward. In pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson employed “digital twinning”–a kind of software simulation of real-world systems that enables testing of different approaches to optimize efficiency and improve output. That helped the company more rapidly scale up the critical task of manufacturing its COVID vaccine. The company also launched a customized skin health app, Neutrogena Skin360, that allows customers to take pictures and receive immediate feedback about personalized skin care and treatment options.

Committed to advancing health equity

Johnson & Johnson’s commitment to help communities has motivated the company to launch its Our Race to Health Equity initiative, a commitment to eradicate racial and social injustice as a public health threat by giving $100 million in support of programs that eliminate health inequalities for people of color, Swanson said proudly. To combat the widening digital divide, which he explained exacerbates inequity as access to health care and other resources, a greater focus needs to be put on connectivity and peoples’ comfort with technology. J&J is working to provide technology enhancements and mobile solutions that put health within the reach of underserved and minority populations. One example is a New Jersey maternal mortality dashboard, a novel interactive tool, which the company designed to aggregate multiple sources of public data for a more complete picture of complex problems. By employing those data insights, the company can then inform evidence-based public health and policy interventions to improve maternal health, both in underserved communities and in broad populations.

J&J is also using AI to increase access and participation in clinical trials, which in turn ensures that diverse populations are accurately represented for optimal outcomes. Another aspect of the Our Race to Health Equity initiative is to drive diverse and inclusive work forces through college scholarships. 

Swanson said that this “urgency to deliver for our patients, for healthcare professionals, and for our communities is at the core of what drives us. That’s not new because of the pandemic; [it’s] what’s always been.” He says the company has had numerous epiphanies that “it’s possible to do previously unimaginable things.” He sees tremendous opportunity ahead for Johnson & Johnson, healthcare at large, and all sectors to use technology ethically and with empathy, for the good of humanity.


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