Many people early on saw the enormous communications capabilities of the Internet, but Swedish digital platform pioneer Anna Omstedt Lindgren recognized the ability to link not just individuals but groups and create communities that transcend borders.
During her 15-year career, Omstedt Lindgren has started unique web sites and helped companies move to digital platforms. Six years ago, Omstedt Lindgren took on one of her most ambitious projects. After learning how few opportunities medical professionals had to learn from each other online, in 2009 she co-founded MedUniverse, an online community for Swedish doctors. After a year, 1,000 Swedish doctors were members and the largest British doctor network, Doctors.net.uk, joined as a business partner.
“One of the things that happen when you connect a lot of people from all over the world is that you can get inspiration,” said Omstedt Lindgren, who will be one of the featured speakers at Digital Health Days in Stockholm September 23-24. “That is mind-boggling; you can open up new drug development strategies, sales methods, new innovations and new competition. Digital players are moving into an area that other pharmaceutical companies haven’t moved into yet.”
Anna Omstedt Lindgren and Anna Norin
The ability to share instantly and on a global level
The idea for MedUniverse came from Omstedt Lindgren’s discussions with her husband, a doctor, about how he did research and brainstormed with colleagues. She learned that the opportunities were limited and time-consuming and began to work on an easier way for large numbers of physicians to meet online. “I was more the inquisitive person in that discussion,” she said. “I asked how he searched for information and why it was taking so long to connect with other doctors. It was more of a push from me than a pull from him.”
After MedUniverse was active, Omstedt Lindgren realized that most of the physicians’ discussions were related to patient cases and that there was a communications gap between physicians and the pharmaceutical industry. MedUniverse then developed subscription-based software that includes text, images, video and sound so doctors can review and learn from authentic, but not actual, patient cases.
Members of pharmaceutical and medical technology companies can add patient cases, ask questions and gather information from the participating doctors. Oncology is one of the most popular subspecialties.
“The main advantage of working online is the ability to share instantly and on a global level,” noted Omstedt Lindgren. “An idea, new treatment or experience can travel so much quicker online and spread much further. The more doctors and nurses learn and share via our patient case tool the better possibility for patients to receive the best treatment.”
Navigate privacy and other regulations
Despite the many pluses of MedUniverse, Omstedt Lindgren and her co-founder Anna Norin, now COO, faced challenges from the industries and regulators in getting started. They had to negotiate with legal departments and review contracts and help those in the industry realize the advantages and opportunities digital solutions provide, Norin said. “If it hadn’t been for Anna’s determination to continue and eventually win the digital battle within the sector, MedUniverse would not be what it is today,” Anna Norin noted.
MedUniverse continues to navigate privacy and other regulations in the industry while operating parallel to similar government initiatives, noted Omstedt Lindgren.
While Sweden has a receptive atmosphere and ample talent for growing digital platforms, regulations can slow expansion. “Small countries can test and do pilots very efficiently; there is a lot of emphasis here on good development and innovations in digital space,” she continued. “But there is a war going on between state and private-run initiatives. In general, we have access to good [medical] care in Sweden, which is fantastic. But when we have free space [on digital platforms] there are lots of regulations and it can be a long process to get agreements with hospitals” and other entities. Each region in Sweden also has its own set of rules, which can slow progress.
A huge information and know-ledge gap in digital space itself
Because the life sciences and medical fields are heavily regulated, people in those industries often are reluctant to try new ventures like digital platforms. “They put a lot of time into security and to ensure privacy, but patients want to find solutions and want more information,” noted Omstedt Lindgren. “There is a knowledge gap between doctors and patients and pharmaceutical companies and doctors. People are trying to fill that with digital information, but because of regulations, people are afraid to move in this space. Pharmaceutical companies are afraid that adverse event reporting will scare some people off.”
MedUniverse often is required to work with multiple choice rather than open-ended questions to eliminate the possibility of adverse event reporting through discussions of the patient cases.
“I think it’s fascinating, this huge information and knowledge gap in digital space itself; all those companies working just in digital space that approach companies that have not even touched digital,” she continued. “Pharmaceutical companies in many cases not only haven’t dipped their toes in the water, they are not even close to the lake. Many of these companies lose out on opportunities; I see a lot happening in the next 10-20 years, like completely new ways of new drug development.”
The power of digital platforms
Omstedt Lindgren’s vision for the power of digital platforms began taking shape more than a decade ago. In 1999 she founded Sweden’s most popular food and drink web site, Tasteline, after some university friends asked her to move their practice of posting recipes in supermarkets online. “I was motivated because I was curious to learn more about online, triggered by the possibilities of building something from scratch.” She also launched the female business network Pokerface and served as deputy managing director for SvD Digital Media where she was responsible for finding new digital ventures for SvD and indirectly Schibsted. “I also ended up educating the traditional print media on the online landscape.”
In addition, Omstedt Lindgren serves on the board of Forum för Välfärd, a not-for-profit initiative to identify healthcare challenges in Sweden and ways to address them. One of the initiatives is a competition to identify apps that have changed healthcare for the better.
“She has been involved in a variety of different ventures and has been tremendously effective in combining new knowledge, business opportunities and people into winning companies and projects,” according to Norin.
More informed patients
In the future, companies may exist only in the digital space and pharmaceutical firms could take advantage of online groups such as Crowdfunding to help support their research. “Companies want blockbusters, patients want to be well. They could get a movement going,” noted Omstedt Lindgren.
The increasing use of digital platforms also means more informed patients; when they get better answers, you see economic effects, she continued. “When patients are better informed, they don’t need to visit a hospital when they don’t need to. They can get information at home, and I see a lot of economic impact from that.”
For others interested in working in the healthcare online space, Omstedt Lindgren recommends patience and stamina. “It really helps to have a number of years of commitment to this space and be well-funded; make sure you can last. It takes such a long time to get in this space, but I wish more would get into it, because there are so many opportunities to make patient outcomes much, much better.”
Anna receiving the prize of ”the most inspiring co-worker” at Executive Inspiration 2014.