Ask the Experts Interview Series

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Johannes Boshkow

Johannes is originally from Germany and studied chemistry at ETH Zurich in Switzerland and Harvard University in the US. After completing his doctorate in Zurich, he moved into management consulting where he worked on strategic projects for various life science companies. He then joined the business development team at Observia in 2020 where he works on bringing innovative patient support to markets worldwide.

Ask the Experts Interview Series

with Johannes Boshkow

Tell us about yourself.

On the personal side, I love the mountains: climbing, hiking, camping, skiing. On the professional side, I’m a scientist by training – I originally came to Switzerland to study chemistry but left the field after my PhD. The scientific mindset has stuck with me though. 

After the PhD, I moved into management consulting where I worked with several global pharmaceutical companies on strategies across product life-cycles. That was quite the shock coming from sciences in terms of speed and focus of the work, but it was also very satisfying as I learned so many new things in a short period of time. 

Two years ago, I made the switch to business development for Observia in Switzerland because I was fascinated by the possibility to work at the intersection of technology and patient-centricity. 

What does a typical day look like for you as Business Development Director Switzerland?

The main focus is on building and maintaining relationships, and being present when new business opportunities arise. So, I try to stay connected to as many people as possible via e-mail, calls, LinkedIn, or during a coffee or lunch. 

In between the communication, I obviously spend a lot of time in PowerPoint and Excel to develop quantitative and qualitative overviews of new business ideas and project opportunities. The rest of my time is needed internally to coordinate with my team, clarify questions with our internal experts, or discuss new ideas and approaches for projects.

How do you network?

It involves a lot of cold calling but also any other opportunity that presents itself. I try to get to know a lot of innovative people through LinkedIn and really enjoy live events to discuss. 

It helps that I’m genuinely interested in what other people are doing and focusing on, because I can always learn something from these interactions. This drives me to contact as many people as I can and join any event where I can make new connections.

It seems that ‘adherence’ as a topic is huge. Are there any success stories that you can share?

Adherence describes the ability of patients to follow a treatment plan, meaning they are taking the medication as prescribed in terms of frequency and duration. About half of all patients have challenges following their treatment plans and unfortunately suffer worse outcomes. The problem is that it is difficult for physicians and other professionals to estimate adherence, meaning it is hard to tackle. 

But with a simple 3-4 month program that provides personalized motivational and educational messages to patients, for example via automated text messages, we can quickly improve adherence by 20% and more. We’ve seen this in several examples, when we provide true personalization and design the messages patient-centric.

Tell us more about the latest developments in Digital Health and Healthtech.

There are many things to talk about here. For me, the two most interesting ones are the rise of patient design and artificial intelligence. What I mean with patient design is that solutions are actually starting to take the patient perspective a lot more into account. The principle is a no-brainer in other sectors that developed technology solutions but was too often underappreciated in healthcare. 

The rise of artificial intelligence is nothing surprising, but we see a lot of exciting examples emerging. It is now up for these examples to lead the way and start providing blueprints of how AI is adopted in healthcare.

Have you always been interested in this field? Who/what has inspired you?

Technology was always a passion of mine – I used to be a pretty hard-core gamer in my youth which developed to a passion for a bit of programming and hardware. That continued as a red thread throughout my studies as much as I could implement it but never really became part of my work until I started working at Observia – which obviously meant I had a lot of catching up to do. 

The passion for patient-centricity came later when I experienced the life-science industry personally and professionally and felt the need to really make a difference for the end recipients as I felt a lot of initiatives were falling short of the best effort that can be made.

How do you approach the topic of business development/sales?

My key focus is to remain transparent and constructive. Finding new projects and outlining them, always gets me excited. But that should not distract from the reality of whether such a project is needed by the client. 

So, whenever I talk to people, I try to understand their situation, provide ideas, and work with them to identify if we can find an opportunity together. My excitement helps a lot in that process, and it usually leads to very productive discussions. But the mantra remains: don’t go into a meeting trying to sell something – figure out what is needed and work your way forward from there.

What are some philosophies/rule of thumb/principles that got you to where you are today?

I guess I’d have to say, the first thing is to always remain open. Every encounter with a new problem, a new opportunity, or a new person presents the chance to learn something. And be aware of what I’m learning to be able to apply it consciously later. 

The second thing is not to take anything personally, especially within sales. In my experience, they generally try their best even though you might not be able to see it from your end.

What drives you?

Always giving my best effort to what I’m doing. There is no point in doing something if you are not doing it right. When I fall short of the final goal, that’s fine, but at least I want to say that I tried.

Top 2 key challenges faced right now?

I’ll give you three: as a societal challenge, medication adherence is a huge issue that really does not get enough attention. Patient outcomes and healthcare costs could relatively easily be significantly improved but it is too often underestimated.  

Professionally, I would say being at the right place at the right time. We work in a very specific niche that means we need to be ready when our clients are ready and that means you need to keep a lot of conversations going simultaneously. 

But that’s also what makes the job so interesting. And on a personal note, we are getting ready for our first newborn in the coming weeks. That definitely is the chance to learn a lot of new things.

Any closing remarks/general advice to share.

We are living in exciting times right now. Technology is moving into healthcare more and more, with many great examples of positive impacts being reported every day. 

Following these trends and trying to stay on top of all the news that are coming in is challenging but it provides so many great ideas to think about. I’m thankful to all the great individuals out there that summarize and report on the latest findings to allow us to keep an overview and find some inspiring areas to work in.

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