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Innovating better standards of well-being

The health care programme being coordinated by Sitra is focusing on identifying new solutions for improving the overall health care provision in Finland – to offer people better services and care and improve the sector’s efficiency and general performance.
Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund

The health of the Finnish population has steadily improved over recent decades, and the life expectancy of both men and women has risen, thanks to a variety of factors, including better health care services. The demand for these services, however, is now growing very rapidly, as the population gets older. This growing demand, combined with the limits of existing resources, has highlighted the question of how to use resources and capacity as effectively as possible to ensure that people’s needs are met, that quality care is available where it is needed, and that all those in need can rely on receiving good treatment.

Sitra’s health care programme has been designed to address these issues by bringing together all the key players in the field to develop the types of services and operating models that will be needed in the future. Improving cooperation between public sector health care and that offered by the private sector is also very much on the agenda.

The programme is funding and implementing a number of research, training, and pilot projects to promote a rethink of how health care services are provided and managed. These will identify things like best practices and help ensure that they are adopted wherever they can be of benefit. The programme will also channel venture capital to innovative health care businesses to generate additional momentum.

A number of international projects are included in the programme’s activities, and are focused on leveraging Finnish health care expertise to generate new business opportunities in countries such as the US and Japan. The programme’s international dimension will also enable best practices elsewhere to be identified and introduced into Finland where appropriate.

New technologies are a key driver

New electronic health care services have a lot to offer in helping contribute to better health care standards and greater efficiency and addressing the problems health care is facing with an increasingly older population in particular.

The Sitra programme is also involved in a broader national initiative to develop a package of new customer-driven, interactive online services. This work is designed to develop an electronic infrastructure to serve the health care needs of the entire population and all the providers in the sector, public and private, in a flexible, comprehensive, and cost-effective way.

Electronic exchange of patient data between providers and facilities lies at the heart of this planned infrastructure, and will also bring true transparency to care. Only when all the information on patient care and follow-up can be seen in this way will it become possible to truly monitor the results of outcome-based care. It will also bring new opportunities for monitoring care costs.

All in all, this new and more transparent approach is expected to provide an excellent basis for continuously monitoring the standard of care that people receive and ensuring that it is of the right quality and achieves the right results in terms of improved health and quality of life.

This type of new, customer-driven technology will also enable heath care customers to gain a better understanding of the information on their health recorded by doctors, health centres, and hospitals throughout their life. It will also open up the way for electronic prescriptions and new ways of accessing health care services over the Internet, such as the ability to make appointments with physicians, receive the results of laboratory and other tests, or make use of a virtual health card.

Sitra’s health care programme is very much in tune with this work in developing and implementing new structural and operational innovations in collaboration with key actors from the public and private sectors.

Empowering the customer

Simply investing in electronic systems and new technology without a focus on the customer would be money ill-spent. This is why Sitra, as well as the other bodies involved, have highlighted the central importance of providing health care users with better service and empowering people to take better care of themselves.

A new Web site supported by Sitra opened at the beginning of 2007 – terveyskirjasto.fi – is a good example of how the Internet can help the man and woman in the street live a healthier life. This online library of health-related information has proved very popular in the short time that it has been up and running and has acquired a solid reputation as a source of impartial, easily understandable information on health matters. Studies have shown that the information provided via the site has made a positive contribution to the health awareness of users, providing them with a better basis for deciding when they need to contact a health centre for advice or an appointment, for example.

Making more effective and broader use of new technology, providing people with more opportunities to understand health issues and what they can do to lead a healthier life, and motivating people to do so are key priorities in the TERVA research and development project.

This is focused on people suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiac problems. Those involved in the project – social and health care services, funding providers, and an international pharmaceutical company – are working together to develop new operating models to improve current standards of care. The ultimate aim of the project is to find a new and cost-efficient way of managing these types of chronic conditions that affect large numbers of people and ensuring that their health is managed more effectively and that the care they receive is better overall.

Sitra is highlighting the central importance of providing people with better health care service and empowering them to understand their health and take better care of themselves as part of its health care programme.
> Hannu Hanhijärvi
(Published in HighTech Finland 2008)