An interview with Disruptive Consultant Björn-Erik Willoch


When we talked to him about the digital health revolution, Norwegian Björn-Erik Willoch, called by some the father of Disruptive Consulting, had plenty to say. Björn-Erik, a management consultant and entrepreneur inspired us with his conviction that digital health has the power to disrupt traditional healthcare by making it pre-emptive and not reactive.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I was one of the pioneers of Business Process Engineering during the 1990s. I’m a great believer in disruptive business practices, especially now that digital technologies mean a shorter time between surprises or disruptions in markets.

I’m also the son of a Lutheran minister and, above all, I believe in the sanctity of life.

What’s your take on healthcare right now?

We know that the human body can be monitored but it’s disgusting that we treat jet engines better than human bodies. It’s also obviously ironic that the reason we treat jet engines well is to protect lives.

Why do I use the example of a jet engine? Because these are finely tuned miracles of engineering and they’re closely monitored. For obvious reasons. It’s all about pre-emptive maintenance. Doing things to the engine before it breaks.

Wearable devices are a huge asset for predictive care because they help monitor conditions that are potentially dangerous. We know that everything in our bodies is measurable and information can be communicated to doctors and people in healthcare in real time. But the healthcare ecosystem’s not set up to work that way. Healthcare waits until something goes wrong and even routine check-ups are incredibly primitive. Look at ultrasound, for instance.

Why do you think healthcare is still reactive?

It’s built into the DNA of the institutions. And, don’t forget, people make money out of other people being sick.

What bothers me is that so much of healthcare is in the hands of government. I can run a company out of business by doing things better but I can’t do the same for a government. There needs to be a real awakening at state and government levels because it doesn’t help if all this incredible technology can’t be absorbed by the underlying structures.

So, back to wearable technology, you believe it has the potential to change healthcare, right?

It has the potential, yes, but I don’t believe it has the power to do so yet.

Leaving aside the nature of institutions, why not?

Because a common standard to enable wearables and other digital health technology systems to talk to each other doesn’t exist. It’s a shambles. There are so many players involved and they can’t agree. Until everything becomes truly interoperable, nothing will happen.

What’s needed is a centre of gravity, something which becomes a de facto standard.

But, then, can you imagine what would be possible if all of these wonderful healthcare devices – from the Apple watch to sophisticated healthcare ICT systems – could really talk to each other?

Do you see the situation changing?

In the next two years, wearable devices will completely change the way we follow people clinically and medically. And, at the end of the day, we’re going to have this stuff inside us.

Ultimately, everything about our bodies that can be known will be because if we can monitor a jet engine surely we can monitor ourselves?

What’s still missing for me is a persuasive story about healthcare that makes people buy into the idea of shifting from reactive to pre-emptive, to really embrace the technology. We need this to change the situation and it isn’t happening right now.

But it’s potentially a great story! 50 billion connected devices talking to each other. We could change the world!

Thanks, Bjorn-Erik.


Article by Elizabeth Nelson & David Holzer


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