A digital revolution for Finnish healthcare
The time for an overhaul to the Finnish healthcare system is long past due. Part of this overhaul involves digitization.
“Finns only have access to an appointment with a dedicated basic healthcare physician after waiting in queues that are longer than in other industrial countries,” says Jorma Mäkitalo, director of the Research and Service Centre of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.
Digital services can help improve this situation. According to Mäkitalo, digitalization will change our understanding of how often a physician needs to be visited.
“In fact, visiting a physician is an outdated concept. Many healthcare services could be offered digitally, while still being satisfactory to patients.”
Blind adherence to outmoded ways leads to inefficiencies. Consider how people take time off of work to visit a physician in person. The costs associated with such a visit could be reduced tremendously by adopting digital services that screen unnecessary visits and result in more time being available for those who truly need to see a physician in person.
“We are constantly surprised by the good results simple algorithms are able to produce.”
How close is Finland to having large-scale remote healthcare services?
“Too early to say because the maturity of infrastructures is still not advanced enough. What is needed is to get to a point where information produced by sensors can be combined with other digital services, and ultimately with the entire healthcare system.”
Staunch resistance to change hinders Finland from achieving a leadership position
Mäkitalo does not believe that Finland will be among the leading countries in the application of digital healthcare services.
“We have tightly regulated procedures that are slow to change.”
Mäkitalo stresses that new services also require smoothly functioning networks and data connections.
“Connection quality needs to be at such a high level that people really want to use these services, and the quality bar is getting higher and higher over time.”
In addition to having a comprehensive fiber network, DNA is empowering Finns to clear this bar. Its 4G LTE network will reach 99 percent of the population by the end of the year 2016. Smart networks will also allow healthcare services to give priority to critical data and be scalable if unexpectedly high increases in needs arise.
Mäkitalo cautions that not all things digital are necessarily sensible. For example, increasing self-diagnosis may raise unnecessary concerns among healthy people. Additionally, self-diagnoses are mostly made by wealthy people who show more interest in their health. A good, comprehensive system would improve healthcare for all citizens, regardless of socioeconomic status.
Digitalization is only part of Mäkitalo's solution. First of all, a good system provides universal basic healthcare services on par with occupational healthcare. Secondly, the expertise of the occupational healthcare sector should be available to smaller companies at a lower cost. Thirdly, Mäkitalo would remove artificial obstacles to cooperation between occupational healthcare providers and employers.
“Finally, I would customise services for the long-term unemployed, specifically focusing on ways to prevent health issues that deny them access to employment.”