The pandemic accelerated health care digitalisation – development continues in 2022

The coronavirus pandemic forced many Finns to become familiar with digital health care services. Countless people are taking symptom assessments on the Omaolo website when they come down with symptoms like a cough, explains DigiFinland’s CEO Mirva Antila. Finns have also adopted other digital services and switched from seeing their doctor face to face to talking with them online.

The pandemic sparked the development of a number of new technologies, such as smart masks and rapid tests, aimed at preventing future pandemics. This group of new technologies has come to be called Covid tech.

The pandemic showed how digital technologies can improve health care efficiency.

“According to the City of Helsinki’s calculations, Omaolo’s coronavirus symptom checker saved health care personnel 42 person-workdays, allowing them to focus on other tasks. The City of Helsinki estimates that this has saved 2.5 million euros per year,” explains DigiFinland’s CEO Mirva Antila.

According to DigiFinland, which provides public digital services in Finland, up to 400,000 Omaolo symptom assessments were filled in on a monthly basis in 2021. DigiFinland is responsible for developing the service and distributing it throughout the country.

Antila is satisfied with the benefits the service has brought. She considers the most important opportunity digital services offer to be improving the availability of services.

“The idea is to ensure that, when someone becomes seriously ill, there are enough resources to give them the treatment they need. Aside from the perspective of financial savings, the overall societal effects won’t be measurable for another five or ten years.”

The pandemic has permanently changed how we work, but has it also changed how we use health care services? According to Antila, 2022 will be bringing plenty of new digital services with it.

New digital services reduce social exclusion among young people and promote equality

The AuroraAI project coordinated by the Finnish Ministry of Finance is a national AI programme that allows different public-sector services to cooperate with each other. The goal of the project is to help people find services in a timely manner and to help operators provide those services. 

AuroraAI contains a number of different services that are being implemented in phases. Next year, the project will bring out the gamified How am I doing? application for young people, which is designed to help prevent social exclusion. AuroraAI chatbot applications and the How am I doing? application help people in various life situations. The applications support users by offering information and helping with independent problem solving and goal setting. The application takes the user’s situation into account and helps them take action.

“In the How am I doing? application, young people answer questions about themselves and their situation, after which the application offers them different services that they can benefit from at different stages of life. When a young person is becoming excluded, it can be hard for them to find the right services by themselves,” Antila says.

People who are going through a hard time in life often need services from more than one place. AuroraAI uses artificial intelligence to try and understand what people need and offers users the full set of services to address those needs.

“The prototype of the How am I doing? application’s first pilot project, the ‘My confirmation classes’ (‘Mun ripari’) application, was tested last summer at confirmation camps in Oulu and Mikkeli. Both the young people who tested the application and the organisations involved felt it was developing in exactly the right direction, genuinely interesting its target group and serving their needs,” Antila says.

From 2022, a service named Suuntima (‘Bearing’), which is designed to help chart patients’ care needs, will be phased into service in Finland. Suuntima combines the patient’s own assessment of their personal condition and a professional assessment of how challenging their situation is. Based on this information, one of four customer relationships specified in Suuntima is chosen. One objective of using the system is to find a customer journey that serves the customer’s needs as well as possible and to assess whether remote services are a part of that journey.

“Digital services promote equality in ways like making services available equally everywhere in the country and allowing for personal service to be more effectively focused where it’s needed most. This isn’t a case of either or; it’s a case of both,” Antila explains.

Blockchain technology and Finnish voice user interfaces could revolutionise health care

Looking further into the future, Antila is particularly interested in seeing the development of blockchain technology and Finnish voice user interfaces. According to Antila, blockchain technology could help people manage their own health information and voice user interfaces could make services easier to use.

“Privacy protection extends to our health and social data. However, some people would like to have their data available to all parties that offer care – but, of course, not to anyone else. Blockchain technology could offer a fairly dynamic solution to this. Here, you have a strong chain of trust: the inviolability of data is ensured by linking each verified block to the chain and creating a unique hash based on its contents. Each block is essentially chained to the previous block, and the data it contains can’t be changed. Additionally, the data can’t be accessed by anyone from the outside,” Antila explains.

Blockchain technology’s most enthusiastic proponents have even described it as the most revolutionary invention since the Internet. Antila is also excited to see Finnish voice user interfaces develop.

“I hope we’ll soon have a voice user interface that can understand normal, everyday Finnish. The Donate Speech project that supported Finnish artificial intelligence was an admirable effort to develop speech-based services. Effective voice control is particularly important for target groups who otherwise find using electronic devices difficult. This technology would genuinely promote greater equality,” Antila says.