The older the men, the more expensive their toys. So would say Ondřej Šípka, Director of the Medical Solutions Division at the technology company CertiCon, which deals with software development. He is in charge of a group of smart people who are developing systems that operate pacemakers. As a result, they help save thousands of patients. In an interview for LP-Life.com, the manager told us what his work entails and how much responsibility is placed on him.
I really don't think so, because I know how doctors talk. We go to professional conferences where doctors speak. We get it sometimes, but there is a vast difference between us and the doctors. One must be interested in doing this work to do it at all. This is an important prerequisite, if one has no affinity for it, then they cannot be good at it. If you're interested, it happens on its own.
We develop software, which we then introduce to the market. I have learned to manage very complex projects, where there is an extreme number of things depending on one another, where 400 people work across three or four time zones, each following a different agenda. And even though there is an awful lot of dependency, we have learned to pursue one common goal and achieve it. Although it sometimes takes time, so far we have always succeeded.
What drives you forward so much? You said it takes several years for such software to be implemented. I can't imagine working on something for seven years, something isn't coming out right, and I know that thousands of patients are waiting for something like that.
The main driving force must be some kind of internal motivation, that is, one must not pursue money or benefits, one must pursue a higher goal. For me, it is important to know that we are ultimately helping millions of patients around the world. We saw stories where patients who were bedridden could suddenly play tennis. When you fall asleep knowing you're ultimately helping people, that's great.
I'm not. You have to find your own thing there. A lot of people would expect to be praised and patted on the back in the end, but that knowledge is enough for me.
In the beginning, there is a problem, whether it is heart disease, a group of patients who have some specific symptoms, innovations or the need to be a market leader.
I know. But here in this particular area of medicine it is not so simple. In this field one must bring the technologies that are the best of the best. Thousands of studies are being made in connection to this, really thousands. Doctors present them at various conferences, in various journals. This is the scientifically oriented part with which we do not deal, at least not in the field of healthcare, where the idea of bringing something new arises.
Once the idea is presentable and graspable, more studies begin to emerge that address the conditions so that it is possible to develop a product that can solve the problem that one of the studies focused on.
I will give an example. Today, we are developing a system that will help set up the pacemaker better than doctors do today, by displaying a color temperature map to see if the heart is responding to the electrodes properly the best way that it can. Today it is up to the skill of a doctor, but in the future the doctor should also have some objective criteria, some data that he will be able to evaluate.
By increasing the efficiency of how the pacemaker electrodes are positioned, the heart muscle will function better. The category of patients who were first designated so-called non-responders, who reacted very weakly to the pacemaker's operation, will become responders. This means that the pacemaker helps them return to normal life. We are creating a project that will make this possible, setting it up in real time.
At this time, however, we are in the first fifth of the project's life cycle and are still conceptualizing a system with an uncertain outcome. We know that once it all works, which will be three or four years from now, it will be a wonderful thing, because it will increase the number of patients whose lives we will improve.
Investors, the customer. We have a very strong company backing us up that can afford such a large investment. It's not like a bunch of scientists get together and make a breakthrough. On top of that, there is the second fact that in order for such a complex product to be developed, an enormous number of entities need to cooperate. These are scientists, doctors, technicians, developers, managers.
I would liken it to something like rocket research. Like what Elon Musk does, who is putting together a spacecraft that would be able to land on its own. We do the same in healthcare. You have to pour a lot of money into something and force people to work together at the highest level with a clear goal. The goal is to increase the number of people whose lives can be saved by pacemakers. And you're looking for the ways to do that. That is the way we work together.
We have direct competitors in Ukraine, Slovakia, America and India. We are unique in that we have very long-term knowledge of the domain. Other competitors bring only technical knowledge, that is, the ability to write a program. But we have a domain background there on top. The ability to understand how and on what basis pacemakers work, how the whole ecosystem works, and we also have history in it. Nobody else has that, we are the only ones. Thanks to that, we are leaders and we stay ahead. We are primary suppliers, we receive the most complex tasks, we have the broadest portfolio of projects.
One of the things that sets us apart is what Americans call the extra mile, that we have added value there. That's what moves us forward. By that I mean precision, perfection and quality.
Yes. If you were to see my apartment, I have everything lined up perfectly. But I don't have an OCD, just a little bit. (laughs)
I have people who I'm close to, not directly in the family, people with a pacemaker, they are younger. I tried to connect them with the right people. Although we do not have direct contacts to doctors, we try to direct them so that they can look for the best solution.
I mean, you've developed a system here, but doctors may be using something else. Are you able to intervene there yourself?
Unfortunately, we cannot do that. But the advantage is that what we are doing here is the best stuff in the world that exists today. These are premium products in the field of healthcare. There are several competitors, but what we do is really the best. If I had to intervene, it would be a recommendation to look for our customer's pacemakers.
I saw the surgery at the Na Homolce hospital, where the doctors installed the smallest pacemaker in the world for a female patient. Did you make that one too?
Yes. The human body is very specific in that the number of diseases and addictions that exist and how they are treated is huge. And you can't cover everything with one device. Each of those devices, the aforementioned Micra or a defibrillator, serves a different purpose and a different group of patients. For example, they might not be able to give the Micra to someone who suffers from atrial fibrillation or has symptoms, because it would not help them with that. On the other hand, a certain type of implantable defibrillator would help them with that. The difference is that the doctor is always looking for the most suitable solution.
It can't be treated as just a job. Maybe some people treat it that way, but I take it personally, when we fail at something, for example. We work under continuous pressure. There are expectations that are placed on us and they are quite tight. In order to make top products, you need to be one step ahead of the market. To do this, you have to put out the right things at the right time, and this creates. It is often caused by deadlines and resources. This is our daily bread.
Sports, that helps a lot. I decided to find another sophisticated field, and that was flying. I combine sports with the mindset to focus on the right thing, which is flying a plane.
These days, planes and the entire aviation industry are built to make the system truly safe. It's as safe as medicine. This is the area of so-called "mission critical" issues, processes, applications. Aviation operates on similar principles as medicine.
You talk about everything as if you were really thinking of it technically. Do you sometimes act only based on emotions?
No. Whenever I had someone who was close to me, it was usually a partner who worked in marketing, therefore artistically oriented.
What are you looking forward to after you have finished this project? Have you already found something else? And will it also be something in the field of healthcare?
When it comes to projects, it's this "never ending story". We are always doing something and it is always something interesting. I can't say I'm looking forward to the coming of that milestone. In general, in my life I try to let go of focusing on milestones. Then you have expectations, and if they are not fulfilled, you end up disappointed. I have been trying to get rid of this for a long time. I am not looking forward to one singular thing, but to continuing to help improve the lives of people around the world.