Nordic eHealth grows strongly in Silicon Valley, but not without obstacles

The panel at the Silicon Vikings seminar on Digital Health (photo: Magnus Nilsson)

The network Silicon Vikings organized a panel discussion on digital health, with a focus on innovators who move from Scandinavia to the US West Coast. But even if products and services are strong and Silicon Valley shows interest, there’s no bed of roses awaiting.

While in San Francisco I ended up at a panel discussion in the financial district, where the theme was Nordic e-health and the focus was on the breakpoint between healthcare and technology. Digital Healthcare: From the Nordics to the Valley – A Perspective on the Intersection of Healthcare and Technology organized by Silicon Vikings, a network that helps companies and innovators from the Nordic and Baltic countries that want to gain a foothold in Silicon Valley and The Bay Area.

The panel included a number of interesting people, both from technology and health care. All with extensive experience in digital development in health, even though several of the companies are start-ups.

Prominent projects behind the panel on Digital Health

Alexander Börve operates iDoc24, who has an app where the user can shoot a suspicious stain on the body and in a short time get an opinion from a dermatologist.

Eythor Bender has started several businesses through the years, and is now active in UNIQ, which prints prostheses in 3D – based on photos that the patient send in. And the prostheses both looks and are marketed more as fashion accessories than anything else.

Pierre Theodore is a surgeon and attached to the University of California, San Francisco. He is also heavily involved in the encounter between technology and health care, and has also been using Google’s glasses during operations.

Finnish Ari Tulla has a background in game development and has worked at Nokia. For several years he worked in The Bay Area, and runs the company Better Doctor. By putting together data from multiple data sources the app provides a unique opportunity to obtain the nearby doctor who is “best”. For the patient, the service is free, and the business idea is to sell the data to others – through an API – and create added value for other services.

Bonnie Zell has an interesting background. She has been both a nurse and care manager, and has worked with publicly funded healthcare in the United States. Now she is involved in making care accessible to more people. The company Icebreaker Health, has the idea to offer health care online, which of course has great potential to help more and to bring down the cost of the care that actually does not require physical presence.

It should be added that even the evening’s moderator, Ran Ma, stands behind an exciting company. Start-up Siren Care – partly of Danish origin – works with textile sensors to prevent and manage chronic diseases.

Ideas and solutions are nothing if no one uses them

Unfortunately, I didn’t take notes during the discussion, and – especially in terms of medical technology – one should be careful on what to quote. Despite this, I give you just a few points that I particularly found interesting:

  • To me, it’s getting increasingly clear that good ideas don’t mean a thing if we who are working with digital development can’t get investors and users wanting to use what we do. There must be more than “this solves this problem” (and just to solve a problem can be difficult enough).
  • The United States has in general a good business climate, but entrepreneurs can have a very tough time in the “we’ll sue your ass off” culture that seems to prevail.
  • The competition for attention in The Bay Area is huge. The entire technology world turns its gaze to this place. It’s easy that even great ideas drown.
  • Nokia released a mobile in India with a pedometer, that after a certain number of steps made a little “cheer” sound. An incredibly simple function, which no one would ever pitch in as the “next big thing”. But the success was as great as it was unexpected. Almost the same story can be told about the SMS feature, which changed the way we communicate. It is not always the complex and brilliant features that wins the user’s heart.
  • Today, the patient receives a lot of information, but it is often the same information as everyone in a similar situation gets. The information becomes unmanageable. In the future we will see an increase in personalization, also within patient information.
  • We have smart phones now. Tomorrow the prostheses will be smart.

Now I have a number of interesting companies and individuals to keep a watchful eye on. The Silicon Vikings network also seem to be very lively and often organizes interesting events, both in the US and in the Nordic and Baltic countries. Check out what they do next, and perhaps we’ll see each other.

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