Jonas Thinggaard, Associate Director for Digital Health at Novo Nordisk in the United States, helped sow the seeds for digital health within the organization and now, as he describes it, “is working on the next important piece of the puzzle in the U.S.”
After significant time spent making a case for digital health and the forming the different partnerships and initiatives to move it forward, notably with the California based start-up, Glooko and IBM Watson Health, Jonas can say with confidence that the digital health movement is maturing swiftly within the company.
There’s been a tremendous excitement building, he explains. “Novo Nordisk has come to see digital health as a fundamental component, moving toward the future, for providing amazing opportunities to people with diabetes and obesity,” says Jonas, “and this has all been over the course of, what by Novo Nordisk terms, is the blink of an eye,” he explains.
But what is digital health? While Jonas holds there are many definitions, at Novo Nordisk, he explains, the focus has been on “digital solutions that improve or support patients in managing their treatment.” It’s not just about building something new, but about utilizing what is already out there in abundance. Jonas describes it as a new era of technological advancement, fueled by data and generating insights in increasingly clever ways. “If we start utilizing the technologies, mechanisms and offerings already out there, enhanced with new innovation on the horizon,” he explains, “we can change the world.”
“It’s not a Novo Nordisk thing, it’s a society thing,” he adds.
Just when he thought the hard work was done and the dust would settle a bit, Jonas was offered the chance to continue the journey by focusing on the momentum overseas. “Now my focus is on supporting the establishment of digital health within the US organization, with a keen mission to drive innovation and develop the market footprint.” This, of course, comes with challenges, he explains, but also an abundance of unique opportunities. For Jonas, success is all about identifying what drives meaningful impact. He argues this means thinking digital health, healthcare systems, but moreover, how people live their lives.
Jonas started in Novo Nordisk in 2013 through the Global Graduate Programme on the Business IT track. As he explains it, “I got offered a positon and jumped on it.” While he doesn’t consider himself a natural fit for pharma, the mission, value proposition and ultimately the ownership structure of the company drew him in. “Our fundamental ownership is anchored with a foundation that gives back to society,” he explains. “That is quite inspirational.” Beyond this, though, “Novo Nordisk lives its values, which creates a special company culture, one that I am proud to have developed in.” Ultimately, Jonas was hired directly from the graduate programme and was shorty after put to work on Novo Nordisk’s digital health efforts, working closely with senior leadership.
Jonas explains that what is truly exciting about digital health, in addition to the opportunities it affords, is the organizational change it demands to succeed. Digital health will change Novo Nordisk, Jonas is sure of it. Though, as he reflects, “change is not a new phenomenon to our more than 90-year- old leading pharmaceutical company.” Openness to change, he explains, is something he’s felt continuously while pushing for digital health. As he describes it, he never felt anyone adamantly against the work that was being done and he never felt dissuaded from pushing forward. “I’ve only ever had the feeling ‘ok we need to put more skin in the game in order to get there.’”
This openness, Jonas explains, is essential, but not always easy. “We are so good at developing innovative pharmaceutical products, I would say better than anyone else in the world. We’ve built our entire machine around that and it’s not a small machine,” explains Jonas. “That machine, however, was not built for short end-to-end development cycles.”
As Jonas holds, though, “Now is the time to pursue digital health. Patient digital innovation groups have been popping up seemingly overnight and non-healthcare players are aggressively entering the domain along with massive investments from industry players”. Moving toward digital health, Jonas explains, is a global trend. While the movement is comparable to the digitalization that other industries have gone through over the last decades, he explains, digital health is unique because at the end of the day, it’s about the most precious thing in the world: people’s lives.