Bernadette Coleman works within the Health Systems team at Philips, where she has been since 2007, specialising in respiratory care. Previously she spent 17 years with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in various roles of increasing seniority, spanning clinical research, medical communications, sales, strategic marketing, and portfolio development at both a local and global level. Before joining GSK Bernadette gained a Ph.D. in yeast molecular biology and she also holds a Diploma in Marketing.
“…There are so many opportunities to make a difference for patients within respiratory care, as it is an area where we are constantly innovating, particularly when it comes to home care innovations that will help to reduce pressures on the NHS and empower patients to recover or manage their condition in the comfort of their home…”
Non-traditional: From research focus to business focus
My career to date has followed a non-traditional path, being dictated by opportunities that have arisen and my desire to progress and be challenged. Having started in scientific research, I would never have predicted that my career would have changed direction completely and I would be a commercially focused business manager.
My career in pharma began after I decided that research at a bench so far removed from patients or clinical utility wasn’t for me (I did a Ph.D. in antibiotic resistance in yeast) and I got a job in clinical research in respiratory at Wellcome. From here I built on my experience and moved into medical communications, before a fantastic opportunity came up which cemented my switch away from research into a secondment as part of Glaxo Wellcome.
Taking me out of my comfort zone
This was the point at which I decided I wanted to move into marketing and embarked on a remote marketing certificate course, completing it as my secondment came to a close. From here I took up a role in product management in respiratory, moving my way through a number of more senior positions, building on the skills I had with each role, but taking myself out of my comfort zone into more challenging positions – which provided the stretch I needed.
After the birth of my son, I continued to work but after three years and a number of surgical procedures and illness that he had to go through, I decided that he had to come before work and made the big decision to step away from GSK and be a full time mum. It was the best decision I made – I had a year out in which I did some ad hoc project work and learnt to plaster.
Eventually I made the foray back to work as I wanted a new challenge. I knew I wanted to stay in the respiratory area, and took on a marketing manager role with a company called Respironics – which on the day I signed my contract was taken over by Philips.
Providing solutions and innovations to improve patient quality of life
I lead a business, which works in partnership with the NHS to provide solutions and innovations with the overall aim of improving the quality of life of patients with breathing disorders. I have responsibility for a team of 62, including marketing, sales, customer service, patient support, quality in the areas of sleep – mainly obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) and respiratory care – covering conditions ranging from asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), through to debilitating muscular conditions, such as motor neurone disease or muscular dystrophy requiring equipment to enable patients suffering from these conditions to breathe more efficiently.
We also support over 8000 patients suffering from OSA on behalf of the NHS, providing phone support and advice for those using devices to manage their OSA, meaning that the NHS clinicians can focus on those patients needing to get onto treatment or more advanced treatment.
As with any business we have targets to achieve, but to me and the team every device we sell or pound we generate means that someone’s partner, parent, child is receiving a device that gives them the chance to lead a better life – and this revenue also gets invested into future product development.
Sharpened strategic focus
Philips has sharpened its strategic focus by establishing two market-leading companies, both of which will continue to benefit from the Philips brand. The first is Philips Lighting – which has been given independence to enable it to better expand its global leadership position and venture into adjacent market opportunities.
The second company incorporates the Health Systems business and the Personal Health business. Building on this strong foundation, Philips will be able to capitalise on the convergence of professional health care and consumer end-markets across the health continuum – from healthy living and prevention, to diagnosis, treatment, recovery and home care. This is illustrated by the rising engagement of consumers to proactively monitor and manage their health, and by increasing pressures on the healthcare system to create new models of care along the health continuum to deliver better and affordable care.
Technology empowering patients to recover or manage their condition from home
There are so many opportunities to make a difference for patients within respiratory care, as it is an area where we are constantly innovating, particularly when it comes to home care innovations that will help to reduce pressures on the NHS and empower patients to recover or manage their condition in the comfort of their home.
For example, one recent innovation includes modems that attach to respiratory care devices to facilitate the remote monitoring of patients. Linked to Philips’ web-based EncoreAnywhere platform, physicians can check a patient’s condition without them needing to be present. This enables physicians to make better decisions, so patients needing to be seen in person more urgently than others can be prioritised. More importantly a physician can actually adjust ventilator settings without a patient needing to leave home, or their clinician leaving their office.
We have also just launched a completely innovative device for the treatment of breathlessness associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – Vitabreath – and the UK is the first global market to do so. VitaBreath is a drug free portable inhaler that provides relief from shortness of breath and can help COPD patients be more active and complete everyday tasks.
In the UK alone, approximately 30,000 people die from COPD every year and many COPD patients restrict their activities dramatically because they are worried about experiencing shortness of breath. Many are so anxious about dyspnoea that they struggle to complete basic tasks like climbing stairs or leaving their homes.
Supporting the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital for Wales and LATCH Welsh Children’s Cancer Charity
MRI [magnetic resonance imaging] scans are a critical part of cancer treatment as they allow doctors to diagnose conditions, plan treatments and assess how effective previous treatment has been. But, out of everything they go through, children are most scared of the scanner. It’s a big machine and they can be in there for up to 45 minutes at a time and need to lie very still, which is why many children have to be given a general anaesthetic. This may come with side effects, so it’s much better for the child if they don’t have one.
That’s why Philips has been working with the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital for Wales and LATCH Welsh Children’s Cancer Charity to try and help children be relaxed, calm, and as still as possible during their scans.
The result of a collaboration between designers and clinical consultants, ‘LATCHmosphere’ helps support the emotional needs of the children and the imaging requirements of staff across the touch points of the patient’s journey. The result is a calming, empowering experience for young people, and includes the installation of Philips’ latest Ambient-Experience (AE) technology.
As part of a phased opening of the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital for Wales, which was completed in May of this year, a fully-Dynamic LED, touch responsive wall and animation light floor have been installed into the waiting area of the radiology department. Hygienically compliant, these interactive displays can be controlled by the children and offer a playful distraction while they wait for their scan.
The department also includes a Philips KittenScanner that educates the children through play, and helps them better understand the scanning process. Similar animations can be chosen by the children to watch during the scan itself.
Advice for women and girls who are looking to work in health technology
There are a huge number of opportunities in the healthcare and tech industry, from scientific and clinical roles, sales, marketing and operational roles all the way through to business-responsible ones – it really is dependent on your interest and level. My advice would be to research the areas you are interested in, then through networks such as LinkedIn, connect to people already doing those roles and talk to them about the positives and negatives. The Internet is the best way to find out about any roles; so follow or connect to the larger organisations.
As a graduate, explore graduate programmes within the large pharma and medical technology companies, which often give a breadth of experience that can be invaluable when it comes to future roles. If you are currently doing a degree look to do internships, or even work in the holidays as these can all help to develop connections and therefore future opportunities.
For me, my motto has always been to work hard, be focussed, but always remain true to yourself and treat people as you would always want to be treated. Never get into situations that in the future could come back and haunt you!
I have been in this role coming up for three years and am still enjoying it immensely – with a number of challenging projects ongoing, I want to see these through. Moving forward I would like to continue to progress my career with Philips, given the breadth of innovations within the company which will have an impact on people’s lives and the NHS. With the advent of the new Health Systems organisation I am sure new future opportunities will arise.