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Close-up: Joan Stafslien

In-house counsel for medical giant helping company grow globally

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San Diego-based CareFusion manufactures health care products aimed at reducing medical errors and related costs, and helping to prevent health care-associated infections in hospitals.

It’s a big market.

The Institute of Medicine estimates that at least 1.5 million medication errors occur within the health care system each year, with the cost of these preventable errors exceeding $4 billion annually. Approximately one out of every 20 hospitalized patients will contract a health care-associated infection, adding about $30 billion in direct medical costs to U.S. hospitals, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

And that’s just within the United States. CareFusion’s products are used in hospitals in more than 130 countries.

As CareFusion continues to expand its international reach, ramp up innovation and strengthen its operational foundation, Joan Stafslien’s role within the company continues to grow.

Joan Stafslien

Stafslien handles legal matters for the company on a global basis. She serves as executive vice president, chief compliance officer, general counsel and secretary for the medical device company that spun off from Cardinal Health in 2009.

Prior to the spinoff, Stafslien was senior vice president and general counsel of Cardinal Health. Before that she served as senior corporate counsel for Alaris Medical Systems from 1998 until Cardinal bought it in 2004. When she moved to San Diego 20 years ago, she began her legal career with Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison and Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps.

Making the move to in-house counsel was always her intended path. Stafslien said she doesn’t really miss law firm life.

“Meaning no disrespect to my counterparts in law firms, I enjoy being part of the business, the strategic development of where the business is heading and meeting customers’ needs. Legal does play a very important role in making that happen,” she said.

Stafslien’s legal and compliance team works on issues such as strategic partnerships, intellectual property, transactional law, litigation, international law and corporate responsibility. A significant portion of her work consists of supporting ongoing businesses.

“We do the bulk of the work in-house with a team of in-house legal staff. Their job and their mission is to be closely aligned with our business strategy and help the business achieve its objectives around the globe,” she said.

CareFusion, which employs about 2,500 people in San Diego and more than 14,000 worldwide, has a global legal and compliance staff of about 50. The majority of the company’s 21 attorneys are located in San Diego, with a few in Chicago, Switzerland and China.

“Especially as we continue to look to grow outside the U.S. as a company, understanding and having an appreciation of laws in local jurisdictions is important,” Stafslien said. “The legal and compliance staff is there to help ensure that we’re doing it right the first time.”

CareFusion’s best-known brands include the Alaris intravenous medication safety system and Pyxis medication management technologies.

Within the last four months, the company has released 10 new products, ranging from software to disposable medical equipment. Most recently, it launched a new suite of Alaris Connectivity services to help hospitals improve IV medication safety, workflow and quality. The technology enables nurses to remotely program IV medication orders through bar-code scanning, reducing the number of manual steps required to program an infusion order. This can help reduce the risk of programming errors at the patient’s bedside.

And in March, CareFusion announced its latest line of laparoscopic take-apart surgical instruments, which can be easily disassembled for cleaning and sterilization. The products promote safer cleaning protocols of reusable medical equipment, which can provide cost savings over disposable instruments.

“All of these are highly innovative products in the health care market. We think that these products not only help save lives, but we can also help hospitals save costs and improve patient safety. So innovation is extremely important,” Stafslien said.

The company continues to invest more heavily in research and development as a percentage of revenues, she added.

Since its spinoff, CareFusion has divested five non-strategic businesses and completed four acquisitions, the most recent being its acquisition of Seattle-based Phacts. The Phacts portfolio expands CareFusion’s Pyxis line and helps hospital pharmacies manage medication inventories and streamline operations, from the loading dock to patient delivery.

One of the company’s biggest challenges today is building a foundation for growth and simplifying how it does business. Stafslien said CareFusion is targeting both large and small areas for efficiency, from IT structures to the way the legal department processes a sales transaction.

“We’re trying to move to a place where we can do things as efficiently and as simply as we can to give us a foundation to build on for future growth,” she said. “That’s a big challenge for us, and I think it’s one we're starting to see good successes on.

“That will give us the platform for global growth.”

As CareFusion continues to expand, it is exploring opportunities in some of the fastest growing health care markets worldwide, including China and Brazil.

CareFusion reported revenue of $915 million for the second quarter. The company plans to release third-quarter results on Thursday following the close of trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

-Klam is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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