- Jan 13 2016
On average, patients in Finland wait between four to six weeks to get an appointment with their primary care physician. The over-saturated state of the healthcare system not only signals a shortage of doctors and funding, but it also cries out for more efficiency. To meet the needs of its citizens, the city of Oulu launched one of the nation’s first e-health programs in 2008, allowing patients to make appointments, refill prescriptions and communicate directly with their doctors. Both patients and doctors alike have benefitted from the system’s high level of efficiency. For example, within the same amount of time that it used to take doctors to make one follow up phone call to a patient, the e-health system allows them to reply to as many as 12 patient emails. Likewise, patients went from waiting up to two weeks to discuss lab results with their doctors to just under 24 hours.
Taking the lead from their predecessors, the bright minds at Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund, and the Municipality of Hämeenlinna teamed up and took e-health a step further with the launch of Minunterveyteni, or “My health” in English. Patients can login to the virtual clinic, open around the clock, enter their symptoms and receive a speedy analysis. The platform also takes into account data streaming in from patients’ connected objects as well as patient medical history contained in electronic medical records, also stored in the database. Once the analysis is complete, depending on the severity of their condition, patients are instructed to stay at home, have further testing done at a laboratory, make an appointment with their doctor or head straight to the emergency room.
This digital “triage” of sorts has ramped up efficiency across the board. From a patient perspective, often times the virtual clinic provides them with all the necessary medical information and advice they need without even leaving house. “Most importantly,” says Jari Numminen Service Designer for the Municipality of Hämeenlinna, “the new system allows healthcare providers to concentrate more on the patients who really need a face-to-face consultation.” And when those patients do arrive at their doctor’s offices, electronic medical records ensures that the medical staff is already up to date on the patient’s condition prior to the appointment.
One of the key benefits of the My Health clinic, according to Numminen: “It empowers patients to manage their own health and their own illnesses.” In addition to the improved flexibility and efficiency, the new service also launched a second component this past summer, the Virtual Health Check. Patients can track certain indicators such as blood pressure, blood sugar and heart rate to quantify their risk of having a heart attack, diabetes or other circulatory diseases. Using the data, collected by connected devices and patient’s data input, the program can suggest exercise routines; transmit readings directly to doctors and alert patients if indicators are unhealthy.
While the program is still in the early stages and working on gaining exposure and raising awareness, the next steps are already in the works. By fall 2017, the Hämeenlinna pilot will be launched across the country. The nationwide rollout of My Health will rely on the database of the existing Kanta, an electronic medical record system launched by the Finnish health authorities in 2012. “With improved data transfer, the quality of services in health centers and hospitals will be enhanced, bringing further benefits to healthcare clients,” says Numminen.
Finland has a history of integrating technology into its healthcare system to expand access and boost efficiency. But in March 2015, the city of Hämeenlinna launched a truly innovative concept. It opened the doors of the first-ever completely virtual clinic to its 68,000 residents. And business has been buzzing ever since.
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