Opinion

Smart health solutions require data and patient centricity

Juha Paakkola

Director, Health Capital Helsinki

16.03.2022

Innovative smart health solutions are needed to tackle the challenges associated with the ageing population, shortage of healthcare resources and rising costs. Finland offers a good base for developing these solutions and ensuring they aren’t built around high technology alone but put patients in their centre.

Over the past years, Finland has become one of the most exciting health innovation hubs worldwide. The Global Innovation Index (GII) has ranked the country steadily among the world’s eight best-performing nations. Its key ingredients for success are top science and engineering expertise combined with strong AI [artificial intelligence] knowhow and world-class healthcare data. 

Smart health solutions could, for example, make living at home easier for ageing people. Image: Eeva Anundi/ Business Finland

Good data is the basis for any AI solution, and this is where Finland excels. Finnish health data is unique because of our state-of-the-art digital infrastructure, extensive health registers and a public healthcare system that covers the whole population.  

Health registers in Finland were established very early. For example, our cancer register has been collecting data for 70 years. Furthermore, the high coverage of our public healthcare system is a pivotal contributor to collecting valuable data. For example, HUS Helsinki University Hospital provides secondary healthcare for two million people and treats rare diseases for the whole country. In addition, HUS has developed a trailblazing data lake that enables data research in a secure environment. 

Data alone isn’t enough to build successful smart health solutions

Another exciting opportunity is Apotti. It’s a new Epic-based electronic social and healthcare record that combines data into a single, unified database. This system is now used by HUS and two of Finland’s largest cities, Helsinki and Vantaa. 

Finally, biobanks are a vital data source. Finnish biobanks have high coverage and easy access thanks to Finnish Biobank Cooperative (FINBB), a cooperative representing eight biobanks.

Still, data alone isn’t enough to build successful smart health solutions. The users of smart health solutions are often elderly people who may have disabilities. Therefore, fully automated systems have particular value. Critical technologies for their development include wearable sensors, computer vision and AI. Combining these technologies and the ‘service design’ concept ensures a service isn’t only high-tech but also user friendly. It steers the developer to the user’s point of view and helps them plan a smooth service path from the start to the end. Aalto University and Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences have excellent service design knowhow and education programmes. 

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland should also be mentioned as a forerunner in wearable sensor technologies.

All healthcare solutions should be developed with the patient in mind. Image: Keksi Agency via City of Helsinki

All the points above come together in my vision for smart health innovations in daily use. This requires using available technology smartly and proactively to steer healthcare services. Take as an example an elderly person with developing cardiac and balance issues. They could be automatically and wirelessly monitored for blood pressure and basic vitals without disturbing their everyday life. At the same time, computer vision could track their movement and balance. 

This data could then be analysed using AI and provided to healthcare professionals who can capture any alarming signs and drive correct preventative actions. In conclusion, these tools could make living at home easier and safer for, among others, ageing people and their families.

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