Technology

Saving time, saving lives – healthcare in the digital age

August 17, 2016

Read time 4 min

From the invention of anesthetics to 3D-printed everything, major advances in healthcare have an impact on all of humankind.

It’s no surprise that research in the healthcare industry is concentrated on the possibilities offered by the rise of the Internet of Things, virtual reality and robotics. These technologies may offer actors new possibilities in the future in a form of remote operations – and they’re already being used for planning surgeries.

So, what does the rise of digital mean for companies in the field? We asked a health technology provider and a medical center – here’s how they see it.

Prolonged life could be Finland’s next big export

The barrier to entry for a healthcare service or product is higher than for, say, a new mobile game. The healthcare industry is, in many aspects, relatively traditional, conservative and subject to rigorous regulation.

This, according to Netmedi‘s CEO Lauri Sippola, has both its perks and problems. On one hand, turning ideas into innovations is relatively slow. On the other, the industry isn’t prone to complete disruption, meaning that actors in the field have the time to perfect their solution.

“Unlike regular digital product companies, we cannot develop our product through the means of testing and failing. That simply isn’t an option when we’re dealing with the lives of people,” Sippola says.

Netmedi’s product, Kaiku Health, strives to better the lives of severely ill people by improving communications and the information flow between patients, nursing staff and doctors.

Better digital monitoring of diseases is already saving lives – first studies indicate that the survival rate of cancer patients has gone up because of increased accuracy in monitoring symptoms and the impact of medication. Advanced machine-learning and better analysis of data are producing revolutionary results: Netmedi can already predict the recurrence rate of one type of cancer based on historical data.

Sippola believes that now is the time to focus on patient-oriented solutions, with patients taking an active role in their own treatment. He also thinks that Finland has the potential to make digital health its forte: Finnish engineering skills are top-notch and quality healthcare has been around for centuries. Netmedi’s biggest clients are currently in Switzerland.

Channels are diversifying, even when it comes to getting better

When we feel sick in 2016, the logical first step tends to be to google the symptoms. Often we end up self-diagnosing with nothing less than a brain tumor.

Mehiläinen is a private healthcare service provider that recently opened up a new digital clinic to serve their customers whenever and wherever they need it. Ossi Laukkanen, the Director of eHealth at Mehiläinen, reckons that healthcare actors everywhere recognize that they compete with Google and internet forums when it comes to relevant information about health.

“We try to lower the threshold for contacting a professional as soon as possible. Our new digital clinic is open around the clock, and the customer always gets an answer to their question within an hour, with a fixed price,” Laukkanen explains.

I believe that the healthcare industry will keep finding new ways to digitalize. We’re currently building platforms on which healthcare professionals and patients communicate; a plausible next step is to cultivate new kinds of information via them. As data-gathering devices, such as wireless glucose meters using Bluetooth spread, home laboratories might eventually become common.”

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Laukkanen thinks that new digital tools in healthcare equip healthcare providers with a new kind of flexibility – and tremendous amounts of sensitive data that has to be stored somewhere.

For a private company, the problem with making use of all the valuable information about their clients is that health data is protected with strict laws. It cannot be used to, for example, better target marketing messages about specific services.

However, with the help of new information sources and feedback from customers, digitalization of the healthcare service business means that actors are better able to integrate into customers’ everyday lives.

The physical clinic isn’t going to go anywhere for decades. Healthcare service providers can benefit from new technologies by using them to facilitate flexibility – call times and medical prescriptions become obsolete, laboratory slots can be booked directly via an app,” Laukkanen says.  

“Who knows, maybe a time will come when customers won’t need to leave their house at all to be treated. Or surgeons won’t need to leave their house to operate on a patient, thanks to virtual reality and robotic surgery. Anything is possible.”

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