Abbot CEO Ford at CES Talks Democratizing COVID Testing

On Thursday, Abbot CEO and Chairman Robert Ford delivered the first-ever keynote address by a company from the healthcare sector at the CES trade show in Las Vegas. This was the first year that CES has been held in person since the pandemic began, with some notable changes. The in-person and virtual hybrid event included mandatory proof of vaccination for in-person attendees. There were also late recalls for personal exhibitors such as AMD, Intel, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Google as the winter saw more cases emerge.

Concerns about the latest version of COVID have also forced the trade fair to plan to close one day early. This took into account the continuing epidemic as well as the need to test technology and other resources to better address its spread.

Ford’s presence as a speaker showed how technology-driven changes in healthcare combined with current events have changed some of the tone at CES – a trade show that has its roots in consumer gadgets but has since evolved to include startups and enterprise technology.

Ford’s keynote speech brought pandemic central discussions once again, along with other innovations from the medical device maker such as home tests for COVID, rapid tests for concussion, and wearable biosensors. “Technology has always fueled new developments in healthcare,” he said. New drugs, critical vaccines, new methods of screening and diagnosis, and the rapid expansion of our understanding of diseases. Using data and artificial intelligence to better predict disease and better target treatment.”

Ford said Abbott has a test partnership with United Airlines and eMed to improve safer air travel when it comes to the pandemic. The partnership includes the ability for United clients to request BinaxNOW tests to ensure they are able to travel.

Aaron MacMillan, managing director of hospitality and planning at United, and Patrice Harris, CEO of eMed, took the stage to discuss efforts to make international travel accessible thanks to the tests. McMillan said international travel restrictions in response to the pandemic mean airline capacity is reduced. “We had to find a way to help our customers get back to flying,” he said. “We knew testing was the answer.”

The eMed digital platform enables rapid on-demand testing with monitors who guide users through the experiment.

Ford said linking health with consumer-focused technologies could deliver on the promise of what he described as human-led health. He described a future where individuals can have more precise control, greater comfort in care, and proactively detect disease early. “Health technology is at an inflection point,” Ford said. “COVID-19 has strongly emphasized the importance of health and the increasing value of technologies that protect and enhance it.”

Such a convergence of health and technology has the potential to digitize, decentralize and democratize health care, he said.

Leslie Saxon, M.D., clinical professor of medicine at Keck School of Medicine and executive director of the Center for Body Computing at USC, also took to the stage to speak on biologically wearable devices. For example, she said, patients with heart failure who have an implanted and connected defibrillator may see a longer lifespan.

“Health technologies have the power to collect personal data with the promise of providing every individual on Earth with the ability to understand and manage their health in real time,” Saxon said. She said ongoing health data can provide early warnings of the chain of medical events, as well as help stave off disease and improve health care outcomes.

Early warnings in healthcare also extend to the need for testing, which is increasingly vital to eliminating uncertainty in the time of COVID as well as for other situations. Ford said 70 percent of medical decisions result from diagnostic tests. “Now you can get this information more easily, more quickly, and in more places than ever before,” he said. “It’s about decentralization.”

This includes the BinaxNOW Rapid COVID Home Test from Abbot and its free app, Ford said. “People get their results within 15 minutes, and they can get proof of their results on their mobile device.” He said the company expects to manufacture more than 70 million BinaxNOW tests this month.

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