September 4, 2020

FIVE FROM FINLAND: Health technologies

A healthy future in Finland? You bet!
Finland is looking towards a healthy future.

Finland is known worldwide for its leading tech solutions and its healthcare provision. Little wonder then that it is a forerunner in healthtech.

Being one of the greenest countries in the world, with the cleanest air and the happiest people, Finland has all it takes for a person to live a healthy life. Besides, Finland boasts one of the most effective healthcare systems in the world, with many companies providing digital solutions to improve healthcare efficiency.

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided significant exposure to Finnish healthtech expertise. Faced with urgent demand from healthcare providers for new ways to diagnose patients and prevent the spread of the virus, local healthtech innovators were quick to deliver testing equipment, such as breathalysers and various blood tests, and contact tracing and screening solutions.

Aside from the urgent medical solutions needed to combat the pandemic, Finland continues to excel in a range of health technologies. Below are some of the highlights.

1. Medical tourism

In recent years, Finnish hospitals have been attracting growing numbers of international patients for demanding medical treatments. As one of the biggest hospitals in Europe, the Helsinki University Hospital (HUH) is the first in the world to have a hospital-adapted boron neutron capture therapy (BNCT) machine for cancer treatment, which could be offered to international patients through its majority-owned company Orton. Cancer patients are expected to receive BNCT treatment at the facility in 2021.

“One advantage of this new treatment is that you don’t need to treat the patient 35 times, but only one to two times,” said Johanna Mattson, physician-in-chief and director from HUH Comprehensive Cancer Centre.

Meanwhile, Docrates Cancer Center is providing diagnoses, treatment and follow-up of cancer patients, with one fifth of its patients coming from abroad. So far, the centre has treated patients from over 60 countries.

“We utilise Kaiku’s digital patient monitoring system, which is a very convenient tool to communicate with patients far away,” explained Ilpo Tolonen, CEO of Docrates Cancer Center.

Kaiku Health is a leading remote health monitoring solutions provider with co-operation agreements in several countries, including Switzerland. The company’s internationalisation efforts were further boosted by a 4.4 million-euro funding round in 2018.

“95 per cent of the patients reported that Kaiku Health has supported their cancer treatments and recovery,” the company told us earlier.

2. Solutions that increase hospital efficiency

Many digital healthcare solutions aim to shorten waiting time for doctors’ appointments. One example is data management company Avaintec, which founded a Sino-Finnish AI and innovation research centre in China in co-operation with partners two years ago.

The first research project is to provide diagnoses based on AI and machine learning in an emergency centre. The neural network can give a best guess based on medical data inserted by doctors, while doctors can enter diagnoses which teach the system to be more accurate.

“The purpose is to introduce efficiency in the first phase of receiving patients and reduce waiting time in acute situations,” pointed out Henrik Leinonen, service director of DataChief from Avaintec.

Elsewhere, Ninchat provides secure communications for hospitals to enable real-time consultation.

“Patients can discuss with doctors before deciding whether they should come to the hospital,” said Ville Mujunen, CEO of Ninchat. “Psychological discussion is also used; actually, we noticed that it is easier for men to tell their problems via the chat app.”

3. Pharmacy automation

Founded in 2007 in the Finnish city of Kuopio, NewIcon is a company specialised in medication management and pharmacy automation. For instance, HUS Pharmacy has been using its automation technologies for years.

“We want to give pharmacy full automation. The benefits are both accuracy and speed. The robots can do approximately 60 per cent of drug sorting, while humans sort 40 per cent,” maintenance services director Jukka Mauranen told us.

Other than being the market leader in Finland, NewIcon has also expanded to the international market with its automation solutions. Its medicine storage robots and smart medicine cabinets can now be found, for example, in Denmark, Iran and Israel.

Last year, the company closed a record-breaking funding round of 4.9 million euros with a solid plan to use the capital for fuelling its growth in Asia and the Middle East.

4. Healthtech devices and diagnostics

Listed as one of the 1 000 fastest growing companies in EuropeOptomed is providing diabetes and eye-disease diagnoses with a smart fundus camera that utilises AI technology.

“Traditional facilities are heavy and expensive, while our device is especially suitable for places where space is scarce,” said Laura Piila, vice president of devices. “Artificial intelligence and automatic diagnosis are the solution for making it prevalent in primary markets. Retinal imaging can detect even more diseases, and many people are currently working on the algorithm.”

To create new business opportunities and better serve its international customers, Optomed established a subsidiary in the US earlier this year. The company also recently received a medical devices regulatory approval in China for its new eye-screening product designed for the retinal screening of newborn babies and small children.

Meanwhile, Kuopio-based Bone Index has developed Bindex, a handy device for the early detection of osteoporosis risk. The idea is to bring diagnoses to more people to prevent potential bone fractures and help doctors with the diagnosis.

“We can have 70 per cent of the risks diagnosed at home by nurses, while only 30 per cent need to be referred to hospital examination,” said Janne Karjalainen, executive vice president and founder.

5. Genetic research and preventive care

With over 98 per cent of Finnish patient records stored in electronic form, Finland has provided a unique environment for combining genome information and digital healthcare data for research. For example, the unprecedented FinnGen research aims at analysing 500 000 unique blood samples from Finnish biobanks to understand disease mechanisms better and enable more personalised treatments.

Meanwhile, Nightingale Health wants to solve the world’s biggest health problem – chronic diseases – by providing an innovative way of analysing blood samples, which can measure more than 200 biomarkers from one sample.

“For chronic disease, the healthcare system is only treating sick people, but what we should actually do is to prevent people from getting the disease,” explained CEO Teemu Suna.

“With the large volume of biomarkers, we can understand the individual differences better. Our goal is to replace all the current blood tests for cardiovascular disease and diabetes with our technology, which also uses AI for sample analysis.”

Text: Tsui-Shan Tu

Originally published in August 2018. Updated in August 2020

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