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Heltti’s digital healthcare solution takes flight

“In future occupational healthcare will be measured in new ways,” Timo Lappi explains. “Instead of costs or sick leave days, the focus will be on measuring employees’ energy levels, productivity, life expectancy.”Heitti

Finnish health services provider Heltti believes the future of healthcare is digital, personalised and preventative. The online doctor is ready to see you.

The moment you knock on the door at Heltti’s clinic in central Helsinki, it comes clear this is no traditional healthcare centre. You are greeted at the door and taken to a cosy café-like area to enjoy a beverage while waiting for your appointment. Surgery rooms are replaced with ‘meeting rooms’, patients are called ‘members’ and there is a distinct lack of white coats.

But Heltti’s mission to redefine occupational healthcare services goes deeper than inviting exteriors. In fact, many of the meeting rooms sit empty as already 76 per cent of Heltti’s patients manage their health issues remotely via a secure chat or call with a nurse or a doctor.

“We are changing the way people think about visiting a doctor, the disruption is similar to what has happened in banking,” describes Timo Lappi, CEO and co-founder of Heltti. “Going to the doctors can mean picking up your smartphone and using a digital connection.”

In practice, this means all of Heltti’s patient contact starts with a remote care assessment. If the patient describes something as simple as cold symptoms, a nurse can give them treatment instructions and sick leave right there and then. For Lappi this is a win-win situation: fast, efficient and no need for a health centre visit.

“We believe healthcare shouldn’t aim for as many patient visits as possible, but for finding the most effective ways to treat people and prevent illnesses,” he says.

Ancient village doctor

The idea for Heltti dates back to 2012 when Lappi noticed occupational healthcare is still largely based on manual labour and industrial companies. When co-founders Tanja Lappi and Seppo Kettunen jumped on board, the trio created a plan for what modern healthcare services for knowledge workers could look like.

The first Heltti clinic was opened in Helsinki two years later. The company started by turning the traditional model of charging for each appointment and treatment separately upside down and introduced healthcare packages based on monthly fixed fees instead.

“It is the model of ancient Chinese village doctors. Instead of the sick paying, the healthy villagers pay the doctor,” Lappi explains. “This way the doctor has an incentive to keep the villagers healthy and not only focus on treating the sick.”

Heltti has transferred this approach to the 21st century with the help of digital tools. For example, all its ‘members’ complete regular digital health surveys so any underlying health or lifestyle issues can be detected early.

Today the company has seven clinics in Finland, staff of 44 employees and close to 400 customer companies with a total of 6 000 employees. There are also plans for new locations and expanding the model to other Nordic markets, which will be needed if Heltti is to reach its ambitious goal of 100 000 members by 2020.

Data-driven future

A crucial part of Heltti’s preventative approach is data. A growing number of people track their health data through smart watches, step counters and other wearables, but healthcare professionals rarely see the data. Not for long, says Lappi.

“We have already done this through another system, but now we are building our own digital health management system capable of aggregating health data,” he explains. “In future if someone gets less active and their sleep quality deteriorates, this could turn on ‘a red light’ for our staff and they could reach out to ask if everything is okay.”

In October, Heltti closed its second funding round: 440 000 euros. Led by Nokia chairman Risto Siilasmaa’s company First Fellow Partners, this was targeted specifically to develop this kind of a digital customer experience further.

Others are following suit. Lappi pinpoints digitalisation and remote treatment as the biggest trends in healthcare today. In occupational healthcare he believes companies’ focus will shift to seeing employee wellbeing as a competitive advantage and a crucial investment, instead of counting sick days and healthcare costs. But no matter the direction the industry takes in the next decade or two, Lappi is confident data is at the core of it.

“There will be ever more data collected from people and smarter ways to support their wellbeing. Artificial intelligence (AI) could spot cold symptoms early and advise you to take it easy for a couple of days,” he predicts. “Eventually AI might know people better than we do.”

CEO Timo Lappi believes that significant change is coming for health services and soon most everyday healthcare issues will be handled digitally. Image: Fanny Haga
By: Eeva Haaramo