Hands-on eHealth for medical students

Getting medical students into eHealth is a major concern. German doctors have recently decided to include digital health in their medical curriculum. The Finnish appear to be further ahead in this respect. The Faculty of Medicine at the University of Oulu in Finland recently invited medical students and eHealth companies to a joint demo day. Students learned how to evaluate the solutions and efficiently use new wave digital systems. And businesses got a chance to get first-hand feedback from doctors.


Sitting across from each other, Henna Nurmi and Moona Moilanen are pensively typing on a laptop and a smartphone. They are visiting the stand of Ninchat, a company showcasing its secure chat solution at Oulu University Hospital’s Testlab. At the event, the students had the opportunity to get a feel of the products of thirty innovative eHealth companies.

Most of the showcased digital products are already in use. For example, Ninchat is behind the chat appointment solution recently deployed by Terveystalo, the largest healthcare service company in Finland. Tasked with some instructions, Moilanen enters the details of an imaginary health issue of a sixty-year-old man onto a smartphone. Nurmi’s responsibility is to gather enough information from this patient. Nurmi says that the chat tool is useful in that the discussion is saved and can be seen by the doctor in real-time.

What leaves Nurmi and Moilanen thinking, though, is that chatting online will not convey expressions and tones of voice. "What if the reason initially given by the patient is in fact not the actual reason at all? When discussing issues face-to-face, things like that are much easier to find out," Nurmi says.

Similar discussions take place in the halls of Testlab, as 130 medical students meander between the stands of thirty digital companies at the eHealth training event, which was held in Oulu for the second time. It is no surprise that the first city to bring medical students and product developers together is Oulu, the town renowned for its pioneering telecoms achievements, among them some of the major breakthroughs with Nokia mobile phones and modern radio technology in the 1990’s and 00’s. Since the shutdown of the mobile phone business by Nokia and subsequently Microsoft, many of the thousands of engineers who worked there have found a new passion in eHealth.

The University of Oulu also has Finland’s first Professor of Health Information Systems, Jarmo Reponen. He pointed out that doctors’ work is now in the middle of digital transformation despite the fact that the national systems have just been launched. The National Archive of Health Information contains key patient data, and the electronic prescription is available throughout public healthcare. Instead of massive systems, it will be many small improvements that will next transform the future, Reponen believes.

"For example, in the care of the diabetics, devices of continuous monitoring are used, which transmit data to a smartphone while the program guides the patients towards improved metabolic control. The data can also be shared with the attending physician," he says.

This sort of culture is still young, as information exchange between different healthcare units wasn’t legally permitted in Finland until 2011. At the same time, digital transformation seems to be only accelerating. Reponen goes on to say that, "In the foyers of some health centres we now have digital symptom navigators welcoming patients, helping them to independently assess whether they need the help of a professional or not."

The fascinating possibilities of big data

A group of students gathers around the stand of the Oulu-based company Laturi. The founder and CEO Vesa Tornberg introduces them to the Energy Test, an online wellness assessment tool which displays questionnaire and measurement results in daily energetic hours.

"The more fit the person is, the more hours the test result will give them. This is a clear-cut way of telling a person about their condition and showing them how it has improved since the measurements taken at their workplace."

Tornberg tells the medical students that the Energy Test utilises extensive masses of medical research data against which the company’s own algorithm is then compared, thus producing the estimated energetic hours.

"The whole idea is that with this solution, massive amounts of scientific data can be presented in a simple manner," he says.

Johannes Palander, a fifth-year medical student, is excited about this topic, as he expects digital transformation to be of help in analysing data masses. Also, the Energy Test seems to strengthen the coherence of the participating group.

"The Energy Test brings with it a sense of community for which we must fight in the ever-changing world. We must not let technology get the better of us and forget our humanity."

In February, Palander attended the Arctic light eHealth conference in Sweden.

"It was a real eye-opener: the extent to which artificial intelligence can help in processing data is incredible. The volume of medical data is getting so massive that one person or even a group of people could never process it."

Science or sci-fi? Artificial intelligence (AI) is reality already. In April, IBM opened a so-called Watson centre in Helsinki, which utilises cognitive technologies, that is, AI. The Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa earlier announced its co-operation with the centre in its attempt to prevent bacterial infections threatening premature babies, and to promote the utilisation of imaging in the care of cerebral haemorrhage patients.

"New devices for measuring a person’s health are introduced all the time, while the amount of data is accumulating rapidly. The challenge is to find a way to harness big data into something that will serve common wellness in an easy-to-use, practical manner," Palander observes.

Useful tools spread slowly

Senior district physician Annu Tertsunen expects that after having graduated, current medical students will be doing assessments in their future jobs. Numerous new digital solutions will be introduced, but Tertsunen warns that tried and tested new methods seem to spread rather sluggishly.

"The first doctoral dissertation on video appointment was accepted at the University of Oulu back in 2004, and since then, video appointments have become an everyday thing in Northern Finland. Simultaneously in some towns in Southern Finland, they are still wondering whether this is something that could actually work."

Oulu University’s medical students testing a remote doctor/chat service

Many of us remember the first wave of electronic patient record systems at the turn of the millennium. Back then, doctors were not let in on the procurement process and they were basically the last ones to know as to what types of tools they would be getting. Cleaning up these damages has continued to this day. According to Tertsunen, the excitement of the students is inspiring.

"We will be getting a whole new profession of innovative doctors and data analyst doctors. I hope some of these students here will also opt for an entirely new career path, which is the only way of ensuring the operability and functionality of new solutions in everyday work."

View Insights 5.4 eBook - Hands-on eHealth for medical students

Juha-Pekka Honkanen

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