Lance Little has served as Managing Director of Roche Diagnostics Asia Pacific since 2012. Prior to this, he was the Managing Director of a number of Roche Diagnostics affiliates, including India, Thailand and New Zealand. In this wide-ranging interview with Dia:gram, Lance shares his mission to promote the true value of diagnostics, his leadership philosophy and his daily inspiration.

1. What keeps you in this line of work?

Through all the roles I’ve had at Roche, I discovered that it’s the passion for bringing people together, where they feel empowered to make a difference. I joined Roche in 1995 as an Application Specialist supporting Boehringer Mannheim's clinical chemistry portfolio, before moving into sales and marketing roles. I already had 10 years of experience working in both public and private labs in New Zealand. My passion at that point was a technical one. I loved having the ability to complete an installation and see how it transformed the workflows and the environment for the better. Right now, it’s really about building teams that people love being part of. It’s also about having the ability to create an environment that delivers benefits to patients, clinicians and our customers – that is what keeps me going.

2. What role can diagnostics play in designing for better patient experience and outcomes?

Diagnostics has a central role to play in transforming patient experience and outcomes. I see diagnostics as an enabler, helping healthcare professionals provide truly personalised care for their patients. Across Asia Pacific, we have worked with many different types of laboratories, from new green-field labs to well established labs to improve quality, speed and processes. A well-run laboratory cuts waiting time for patients as well as the anxiety associated with not knowing a test result. Effective screening diagnostics programs can have a dramatic impact on the health of entire populations through early detection and prevention.

3. What healthcare challenges does the region face and how can diagnostics help?

One fundamental challenge is that even though diagnostics influences over 60% of clinical decision making, it receives approximately 2% of healthcare funding. Depending on the country and its stage of development, you have a range of challenges. The emerging markets are striving to achieve a basic level of healthcare for the entire population. Once they’ve achieved that successfully, there is the flip side of managing the costs associated with care. In emerging markets, diagnostics can shape best practice, particularly because healthcare systems are still being established. In the developed space, smart use of diagnostics can have a profound impact on reducing downstream costs.

“Labs now realise that they need to be much more proactive in the fight for funds. It’s important to tell their story, show the evidence and advocate for the value they hold.”

4. What hurdles do you face in communicating the value of diagnostics in healthcare?

Diagnostics provides answers and clarifies specific health-related questions that enable clinicians and individuals to act and take control of their own health. With advancements in science and technology, diagnostics is no longer just a stepping stone to treatment. It is about intervention. It is about better disease management and better patient care. It is about preventing disease from getting worse or detecting it before it even starts. The first hurdle is articulating the value of complications that have been prevented as a result of diagnostic testing – the case of diabetes that is detected and well managed; the heart attack detected within the hour; the cervical cancer caught while it is still pre-cancerous – these interventions save lives and cut healthcare costs. But that’s only the first hurdle. The second hurdle is taking that into a healthcare environment where people are prepared to bet long-term and put a little more money into diagnostics. The modeling shows that they will save money down the road this way. But it’s difficult, frankly, to find the people and the environment that will take that long-term bet.

5. How could laboratories take the lead in driving conversation around the value of diagnostics?

Laboratories are still seen as a support function. But labs now realise that they need to be much more proactive in the fight for funds. It’s important to tell their story, show the evidence and advocate for the value they hold within the healthcare environment. I think labs need to collaborate more and become a stronger voice. One of the most visible groups in the region is IVD Australia. They’ve been relatively successful in telling their story, being involved in policymaking and leading discussions on the value of diagnostics.

6. What impact has the opening of the Centre of Excellence in Singapore had on the region?

I saw within our organization a significant variation in the skill levels of specific functions. For example, an engineer in one country may be much more developed than an engineer in another country, for all sorts of reasons. This is also the case when it came to marketers and salespeople and it has a lot to do with the maturity of the industries in those countries, the different operating environments and business models. Through the Centre of Excellence, we want to lift standards in a consistent manner. There’s no cut-down version for Asia and we’re training everyone to a global standard. We’re also imparting a lot of knowledge beyond the analyser, and therefore our people add tremendous value to the lab. We trained over 400 salespeople last year. We also completed 186 technical trainings in Singapore apart from the training that’s happening in other countries.

We’re also working with various partners, including industry bodies such as APFCB, who are trying to lift standards of laboratory practice. We work with them in running quality programs and Lean Six Sigma programs to improve standards.

7. What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned about doing business in the region?

I’ve reflected on these lessons a lot. You have the same product that is used the same way. But the journey from Roche to the customer lab is unique in every country. It is driven by the fact that people in different countries will make decisions differently depending on their environment. Drivers for decision-making are not only scientific or commercial, but also influenced by culture, and all our cultures in Asia Pacific are quite different. So, for me, the lesson is to seek and understand the culture and why people make the decisions they make. If I was sending a manager to a new country tomorrow, my first instruction is to understand the cultural drivers, as this would be one of the core pillars by which people make decisions. Learning and seeking to understand, being open minded – these are the big lessons I’ve learned.

8. If there is one leadership lesson you could share, what would it be?

If it comes down to one thing, it might sound clichéd, but I believe it’s about building trust. Without trust, people will not truly embrace the direction you want to take the team. The ultimate question to ask is “does the team trust enough to follow the leadership with complete commitment, and equally does the leadership trust the team to execute and bring their creativity to the table.” The role of a leader within our organization in Asia Pacific is essentially to create the direction, smooth the pathway, then allow our teams to execute. This is where I believe authenticity is critical. People may not always agree with you or like your decisions, but if you are consistent and truly authentic, then the teams have a reason to get behind you as a leader.

“Diagnostics is the backbone of healthcare providing value beyond just diagnosis. It is an enabler, helping healthcare professionals provide the best guidance for patients.”

9. What are you reading right now?

Right now I am reading two books. One called "Shift" which is a book about the historic turnaround that Carlos Ghosn achieved with Nissan in Japan. The other is the classic work from the Roman philosopher Seneca, "Letters from a Stoic". Both are great reads and challenge my thinking which I think is valuable.

10. What inspires you at work and outside of work?

The common theme that threads through both arenas is a desire to be valuable to others. At work, I am inspired when I can bring people together as a team and watch them grow through that experience. At home, I want to contribute to the journeys that my family members are on. Being able to contribute positively to all these people in my life inspires and motivates me every day.

“We need to revalue diagnostics.”

*The information contained in this article was extracted from Edition 2017, Vol 1.

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