Scaling through crisis: Mehiläinen at the digital forefront of the pandemic

The demand for digital services has skyrocketed this spring, and healthcare providers, in particular, have been forced to be on top of their game. So, what does it take for a 110-year-old healthcare provider to tackle a pandemic in the 21st century? For starters, a strong digital foundation, an agile state-of-mind, and the willingness to dive head first into the unknown on a global scale.

Luckily Mehiläinen, the biggest healthcare provider in the Nordics, has been building its digital competence with Reaktor for years and was as ready as one could be to face the increased demand. In this blog post, we’ll dig deep into how Mehiläinen’s Digital Clinic, a remote doctor service, turned from something convenient into something necessary and is now helping healthcare operators and patients outside Finland as well.

Mehiläinen’s and Reaktor’s collaboration started in 2015 when they partnered up to extend Mehiläinen’s high-quality in-clinic experience to a holistic digital service, through which patients can manage everything related to their health, from appointments to test results, prescriptions, and follow-ups. 

The initial version of Digital Clinic, which is a part of Mehiläinen’s comprehensive digital ecosystem, was released in 2016. The new service was not just an extension of the in-clinic service but rather a whole new service innovation that offered faster and easier access to healthcare. Digital Clinic also opened up an opportunity for healthcare professionals to either switch permanently to remote work, or complement the in-clinic work with remote tasks. 

In 2020, Digital Clinic has been at the core of tackling the pandemic. Here are a couple of key elements we found helpful in scaling up during the crisis:

Solid foundation gives support 

From the start, Mehiläinen wanted Digital Clinic to be at the core of the customer experience and not just an isolated chat module. The service needed a strong foundation, so the product team chose to develop the system from scratch instead of using any commercial off-the-shelf solutions available. The first version of Digital Clinic included native iOS and Android applications, a web-based system for healthcare professionals, and a scalable AWS cloud infrastructure behind it all. 

A custom solution let the system become intertwined with all the other services Mehiläinen provides from digital coaching to treatment plans. The system was created in close collaboration with healthcare professionals to best fit their workflow, and ensure high-quality care even with increased user volumes. Also, the scalable AWS cloud infrastructure needed no reconfiguration when the demand increased. Smart technical choices allowed the product team to focus on the most urgent matters. 

Agile methods enable quick reactions

Another savior in the on-going crisis has been the agile working methods that are at the core of both Reaktor’s and Mehiläinen’s way of working. Mehiläinen had embraced agile methods long before the peak in demand, which meant that shifting priorities on the go was nothing new for Digital Clinic’s product team. 

When more and more people started to seek care and make doctor appointments remotely, the team was ready to develop new top-priority features. At this point, securing people’s health, easing up the healthcare professionals’ workload, and shortening the patients’ queueing times jumped right on top of the priority list. The agile working methods prepared the team to work quickly in a tough situation, but combining them with a positive atmosphere among the team was a game-changer for the product team’s success. 

Optimization provides better service

From the start, improving efficiency and optimizing the service has been a high priority in Digital Clinic’s development. Earlier in the project, an automated symptom assessment was one of the improvements integrated into the user journey. The assessment eliminated the need for healthcare professionals to ask a list of standard questions in every conversation. The questionnaire generated symptom summaries for the healthcare professionals to give them most of the necessary information the moment of contact, allowing them to focus on the key details to provide high-quality care efficiently.

When the number of remote appointments made through Digital Clinic jumped from the usual level of hundred appointments a day to a thousand, two quick fixes were implemented right away. First, while additional healthcare professionals were quickly onboarded to use Digital Clinic, the development team added more automation to the symptom assessment to direct the surge of patients to the right specialists based on their symptoms. The combined effort settled the queues, providing a smooth user experience despite the unprecedented volume.

Moreover, the team set up a separate channel to Digital Clinic for suspected coronavirus infections, while Mehiläinen started treating all respiratory symptom cases apart from others in the clinics. The new virus-specific channel had a customized symptom assessment questionnaire to evaluate the likelihood of a potential infection. The added feature and procedure helped Mehiläinen to secure the safety of its patients and healthcare professionals and streamline the user journey on all fronts. 

A global state of mind opens up possibilities

In addition to upgrading their services in Finland, Mehiläinen was able to fight the pandemic outside its most familiar environment. They partnered up with a healthcare operator in one of the countries most hit by the virus: Italy. 

A partnership with healthcare provider Centro Medico Santagostino was formed to both help reduce the burden on the clinics that were already exhausted over their maximum capacity, and to provide people with safe remote access to healthcare. Thanks to the strong digital groundwork done for Digital Clinic in Finland, the team could set up a digital clinic for Centro Medico Santagostino in just a few weeks.

The persistent and dedicated development of Digital Clinic and the new service innovation it created had sparked interest among healthcare operators outside Finland already before the pandemic. In 2019, Digital Clinic was turned into a global product that could be sold and customized to other countries easily. The first foreign client was Greece’s largest private hospital group HHG.

For many traditional healthcare operators around the world, Digital Clinic offers a whole new way of providing healthcare. Besides the design, development, and infrastructure for setting up their digital clinics, Mehiläinen can provide its partners with years of experience in running a remote healthcare system and operating the platform. They are thus changing the entire industry by empowering people to take care of their health easily whenever and wherever needed. 

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