Michael Hill Meet The Innovators

The Vice President of Corporate Science, Technology, and Clinical Affairs helps Medtronic harness the power of new technologies and develop solutions.

Michael Hill has been involved in some of the most groundbreaking technological developments in healthcare. In the late 1990s, he helped develop Medtronic cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) devices, which emit electrical impulses to help the heart regain normal contraction. That therapy became one of the fastest adopted medical device therapies in history.

He also helped develop the world’s smallest pacemaker, a revolutionary pacing system that is implanted inside the heart and does not use wires, or leads, to deliver its therapy.

Q: What do you think of when you hear the word “innovation”?

Innovation is using knowledge in a new way to create value. It must be meaningful. For a patient that means better therapy which helps them return to better health. Meaningful to a physician may be assurance that the therapy can be reliably delivered. For hospitals, meaningful might mean innovation that delivers the outcome we promise. And for the payer, innovation means our therapy delivers value and they’re getting what they paid for.

Innovation is using knowledge in a new way to create value. It must be meaningful.

Michael Hill

Q: What is your vision of the role Medtronic will play in healthcare technology in the decades ahead?

I wake up every day looking beyond the apparent. I want to see what else is out there. Every new day is a learning opportunity for us to discover something – and do something – in a different way. I want people to look at Medtronic and say we are the leader. That we are the most innovative player in the healthcare space when it comes to medical device technology. I think we’re there now and I want us to stay there. The only way that we get to the next step is to see further than what we can measure, beyond what we see, and understand what could be a possibility. If we believe something is possible, then it’s just a matter of getting there.

Q: What are some of the specific ways you’re doing that?

Medtronic is focusing on several key technology areas, such as augmented reality, 3D printing, sensors, biomarkers, modeling, and simulation. We have experts that are working together in probably one of the largest technical scouting efforts ever done in the medical device technology space. There are 80 subgroups and more than 250 sub-sub groups collaborating in these technology areas, working to see what we can do. And that’s just internally.

Externally, we're partnering with consortia that are working with global governments, academic centers, and professional societies, to explore these areas. We have been a leader in the business of healthcare, especially in the medical device technology area, for the last 70 years. We want to do the same thing moving forward. What better company than Medtronic to lead in the space of tissue regeneration, for example, which is biomedical engineering, contributing to human welfare, and completely consistent with our company Mission?

The only way that we get to the next step is to see further than what we can measure, beyond what we see, and understand what could be a possibility.

Michael Hill

Q: Can you elaborate a bit on tissue regeneration?

We are looking at how we can help personalize medicine for patients. How, in the long term, can we do something that's specific for you? Can we take an MRI or CT scan of you, and then actually make the product for you? Now that's going to take some regulatory work, that's going to take some development work, that's going to take some manufacturing work to get there, but those possibilities are real. Take diabetes for example. What if someday we can create cells and a scaffold that can be implanted in you that is truly an artificial pancreas? Or build an arterial vascular graft specific to a person’s anatomy that can then be implanted? Some day we may even be able to create new organs. That’s a long way away, but we’re thinking that far ahead.

Q: How does 3D printing fit into the picture?

We are actively using 3D printing for prototyping to shorten development time. It allows us to learn very quickly and greatly accelerate innovation. If we have an idea for a new tool or device, we can 3D print it in a matter of hours, rather than weeks or months, and see if it works. That means better products getting to patients faster. In the longer term, we’re looking at areas such as spine, where we might actually be able to manufacture the entire device in a way that provides personalization and improved manufacturing quality and reliability than today. Or let’s say a patient has some abnormal internal physiology. We may be able to use a scan to identify that anomaly, then 3D print a replica so the physician can see it, understand it, and practice the procedure ahead of time on that 3D printed version.

Q: Speed of innovation is more important than ever, isn’t it?

Absolutely. That’s why 3D printing and rapid prototyping are so critical. The amount of knowledge that we're exposed to now essentially doubles every year. Accelerating innovation so we can stay ahead of the curve is half the battle. Innovation is basically using knowledge to create new things that have value. So those new things that have value must be created in a way that can be accomplished before anybody else. We have to accelerate our learning and we have to be looking for those opportunities all the time.

Accelerating innovation so we can stay ahead of the curve is half the battle.

Michael Hill

Q: How about augmented, or virtual reality?

It is very important for physicians to be able to deliver our therapies in an effective way. Training and education for procedures is one of the core pieces that we do. In some cases, that is just as important as the therapy itself. We are looking at ways to best use augmented and virtual reality to give physicians the ability to practice delivery of our therapies. It's an incredible tool. Anybody who has ever been to a 3D movie knows it’s kind of fun when the ship flies right at them. For a physician, being able to see that kind of thing from a training aspect, when they're actually doing the suturing, or when they're trying to pull tissue together or when they're trying to go through a layer in the brain, the ability to experience that and actually see and feel and know how that's done can be an incredibly important learning tool.

Q: How exciting is this for you on a personal level?

I'm a kid at heart, and so for me all of this is brand new and fun. Medtronic founder, Earl Bakken, told us ‘nothing is impossible.’ I agree with him. The opportunity to really change how we do medical device therapy for patients is going to be completely evolved in the future. We intend to be leaders in that evolution.