While some countries implement digital health solutions easily and successfully, some have to deal with never ending projects, rising costs and frustration. Instead of “copy & paste” roadmaps, we need a compass to discover the right direction. You can find this – and many other inspirations for innovative healthcare – during the HIMSS & Health 2.0 European Conference (11-13 June, Helsinki). To get ready for Europe’s leading digital health event of 2019, here is a short visit to one of the most innovative of Finnish ecosystems – OuluHealth.
Unfortunately there is no such a thing as a universal pattern for digitalisation. The reason is easy – every country, economy, society and health care system is different. In considering digital health we should avoid simplifications and focus on the real facts: case studies, achievements, experiences, good lessons and mistakes. It is easy to say that Estonia did it, because it is a small country, USA has the biggest health care spending and Finns have this indefinable “gene of innovation and modern mindset”.
However, such simple answers to complex problems are often deceptive. Let’s face the facts. Every country that progresses quickly in the digitalisation of health care earns its success. It is never a matter of good luck or coincidence, but the right regulations and policies, strong leadership, small steps, clear goals and shared immersion. This is also the case with Finland, where the innovative mindset is not hidden in the genes but is the result of well-thought-out strategies. Eero Punkka, from the Finnish start up VitalSignum, says that what also matters is support from the government, such as through public funding of R&D.
“The Finnish healthcare ecosystem stems from a combination of excellent capabilities in ICT technologies, world-class health tech & biomedical research and state-of-the art clinical practices in an innovation-friendly environment. Finland has a highly developed digital infrastructure, and citizens and patients are willing to try new products and services,” says Eero Punkka.
There are much more to the foundations of this innovative healthcare system. Before we travel to Helsinki next year to attend the HIMSS & Health 2.0 European Conference (11-13 June), let’s make a short visit to Oulu – a small city located an 8-hour drive by car to the north of Helsinki.
An interview with Joanna Seppänen from OuluHealth (Marketing and Communications Department, Health & Life Science) at BusinessOulu.
Ecosystem development is long-term work, so patience and consistency are quite important. I do not think there is a ready recipe for creating a successful ecosystem, but I would like to highlight motivation and the desire for constant development. To all of these I would also add openness towards the new, and the curiosity that drives innovations. The inhabitants of Oulu are open-minded and ready to test new solutions. Our city has more than 50 years of experience in high technology and working together to make things happen. The saying ‘collaborate to innovate’ has a very deep meaning here.
Bringing together so many partners from different sectors is never an easy task. The OuluHealth ecosystem was established to strengthen collaboration between the city of Oulu, research organisations, universities, healthcare providers and the private sector; so it is a combination of modern technology, innovations and a desire to grow together. Building a strong ecosystem requires from its stakeholders both determination and resources, but first of all a solid understanding of the fact that great results are born out of cooperation.
The OuluHealth ecosystem now successfully supports the creation of new solutions and accelerates their implementation in the health sector, making life easier for millions of people. But all of this did not happen overnight. It is crucial to keep in mind that the goal is to cooperate, not to compete with one another. When we achieve our goals together, it motivates us to continue to do so.
I think Oulu is the perfect size. It’s called the 12-minute city. This means everything is within reach, in no more than 12 minutes. It is big enough to offer all the opportunities for development but not too big. All the ecosystem stakeholders are in close contact. Every year we organise events like the OuluHealth Ecosystem Day for everyone to meet and talk. That is why cooperation feels personal to some extent. We know one another well.
Currently there are a few meaningful projects running in Oulu. I would like to mention two of them.
The DigiHealth Hub project (funded by the European Regional Development Fund) aims to increase expertise and capabilities in rapidly evolving health and wellbeing digitalisation. The Hub accelerates research and innovation actions concerning prevention, treatment, and personalised medicine, and speeds up the adoption of digital innovations as well as the joint development of data-based services.
This initiative will result in building operational models for the digital health knowledge network. The aim is to identify and create methods for sharing and utilising health data that support research, clinical decision-making and the personalised management of data. The Hub strengthens the research and innovation capabilities in the utilisation of artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analysis in health and medicine. With the help of this project, not only will Oulu strengthen its know-how in health and communication technologies but it will also make use of new business opportunities for health companies. The DigiHealth project is managed by one of the ecosystem’s stakeholders, the Centre for Health and Technology.
OuluHealth is also a part of the international project, inDemand, which is a new model for co-creating digital health solutions by healthcare organisations and companies, with the economic support of public regional funds. The goal of inDemand is to deliver the products and services that meet the needs carefully selected by Oulu University Hospital. These new solutions will enable patients to be more involved in taking care of their health, hospital processes will be enhanced, and more cost savings in healthcare will be generated. This project applies both demand-driven and co-creation approaches, and it is implemented in three pilot regions: Murcia in Spain, Paris in France and Oulu. The first edition of inDemand resulted in four digital health solutions, and we are already preparing for the second round, which begins in January 2019.
Oulu is the leader in digitalisation in the healthcare sector. It is the first city to test the 5G network in a hospital environment. These tests contribute to creating new types of wireless services and business models. The 5G network enables a whole range of huge possibilities in terms of health care. This includes tremendous advancements in imaging, diagnostics, data analytics, and treatment. While the world is still talking about 5G, the University of Oulu has already begun to make headway in 6G development. It takes an open-mind, courage and endurance to implement health innovations effectively. We are not afraid of challenges or demanding projects. This results in the many digital health solutions being developed here in Oulu, which are widely used in Finland and beyond.
I imagine future social and health care services delivered in Finland being based on advanced technology: personalised, patient-oriented and connected. Patients will be treated in hospitals that will utilize the most advanced technologies, such as 5G, IoT, AI, VR, AR and big data analytics. Actually, such a hospital is under construction in Oulu, as a part of the Future Hospital OYS 2030 programme. We are aiming to soon have here the smartest hospital in the world. In the future patients will use a variety of smart wearables for the self-tracking and self-management of their health conditions. Innovations will enable us to be more in control of our health and prevent many diseases. I strongly believe that future Finnish social and health care services will be easily accessible. Artificial intelligent solutions will be in common use to support the work of health and social care professionals. Will we live better? I don’t know, but I want to believe that we will live longer at home, independently, and stay in good health supported by high technology.
Digital Health Journalist
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