Employing Expertise During a Pandemic
Our senior medical lead and infectious disease specialist discusses our Worldwide Medical team's response to COVID-19.
An interview with Tobi Karchmer, MD, MS, vice president, Worldwide Medical
Q: Tell us about your role at Baxter and the career progression that led you here.
Dr. Karchmer: At Baxter I lead the Worldwide Medical function, which encompasses our medical affairs, clinical development, strategy and delivery, and renal care services teams. Worldwide Medical serves as a bridge between external health care providers and Baxter’s businesses and functions, to ensure optimal impact of our products and therapies. Before my career in industry, I spent many years as a staff physician and hospital epidemiologist. Because of my background as a medical doctor specialising in infectious diseases, I was also asked to serve on Baxter’s COVID-19 Global Task Force.
Q: What experiences helped you prepare for situations like the COVID-19 pandemic?
Dr. Karchmer: During the first Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic, I had an opportunity to volunteer at a hospital in Toronto, helping them manage the virus’ impact on patients and staff. Being on the frontlines of a viral epidemic was a hugely formative experience, and certainly gave me a deep appreciation for the courageous healthcare workers who do it every day. I didn’t know it then, but the experience would prove extremely valuable in helping Baxter understand the steps we can take to keep our employees and patients safe from COVID-19.
Q: What role does your team play in supporting healthcare professionals and patients during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Dr. Karchmer: Baxter’s response to COVID-19 crosses numerous functions and business units, and our medical affairs group is an important bridge for how we help healthcare professionals address patient care. The medical team brings together our knowledge of COVID-19 and assesses information, so we can offer the best possible solutions for the unique challenges created by the pandemic.
Q: How has your team made the biggest difference for patients?
Dr. Karchmer: My team’s medical expertise is needed across our healthcare specialties. Of course, people are especially looking for input from our team in the renal space because kidney injury has been a major problem for COVID-19 patients. However, for example, some COVID-19 patients also experience coagulopathy — problems with blood clotting. Our Advanced Surgery group has expertise in coagulation because of their work in preventing blood leaks during surgeries.
Q: What is your secret to managing a team with such great depth of medical expertise and different specialties?
Dr. Karchmer: I’m privileged to lead a team of people who are extremely bright and have deep expertise in their respective specialties. I’m not an expert in every aspect of medicine, and I’m never going to be. So instead, I try to allow our experts to shine and bring forward their knowledge as much as possible.
Q: We are currently experiencing varying degrees of impact from COVID-19 around the world. What’s next on the COVID-19 front?
Dr. Karchmer: We continue to learn about many facets of SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes the infection known as COVID-19 — as the global pandemic continues. The pandemic has had varying impact in different countries and even within regions of countries. While some regions have been able to control the spread of the virus, it’s not going away without continued effort, including extraordinary measures to limit transmission. Medical learnings related to the care of patients with COVID-19 are being shared at an unprecedented pace, allowing for improved care and better utilisation of protective measures to decrease the risk to healthcare providers. While we are still trying to understand the longevity of the immune response to SARS-CoV-2, scientists believe that the development of an effective vaccine would be a major step towards stopping the pandemic.
Q: What did you discover about Baxter after joining the company and what are you most passionate about accomplishing?
Dr. Karchmer: I was incredibly impressed with the pandemic plan that was in place. Baxter has an absolutely solid pandemic plan ... and that foundation and framework have served the company incredibly well. One of the main reasons I came to Baxter was the opportunity to align medical and clinical affairs into a common group and develop seamless ways of working together. When all parts of our medical and clinical functions operate synergistically, we can provide better products and service to the patients and healthcare providers who count on our company.