Nordic Health Innovation (NHI) is at the forefront of developing a digital support system for the healthcare sector. NHI’s goal is to use artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to create self-learning systems that can achieve early diagnosis of diseases long before treatment is required.
The European spoke to CEO of NHI Jonas Berggren to find out more about the current research and the long-term differences he believes the work will make.
Your services are geared primarily towards the elderly. What are the specific challenges you face with this demographic?
Jonas Berggren: The elderly are precisely the target group for our digital solutions. Generally speaking, these are often patients with a multitude of illnesses, who need to be managed in a medically correct way without burdening the healthcare system. There is therefore a significant need for more user-friendly technology to assist in this care, as well as the necessary education to use it.
Working with manufacturers, our challenge is to develop new connected medical devices which can be easily used by the elderly. We still need the support of family members, homecare or other staff to help these patients and we have already developed a structure for educating homecare staff.
How are you able to ensure that your product can be reached widely and easily?
JB: Our services are designed to suit the latest cloud and Internet of Things (IoT) technology, which means that you have access to them everywhere in the world, as long as you have access to the internet. This is irrespective of whether the country’s digital infrastructure is built with the help of mobile networks, which is the situation in many places in Africa and Asia, or with the fixed networks in Europe and North America.
The cloud-based services and our own flexible exchange rely on Microsoft servers, which are located within the EU. Security and data privacy are key contractual and architectural elements and the setup will need to fulfill the Swedish and EU requirements in the area.
In Sweden we are working to integrate NHI and the Rural Medicine Center with the Swedish hospital healthcare production system and the newly formed Swedish e-health account Hälsa för mig. We are looking to build similar systems from the bottom up in other countries. Through an e-health account, the intention is to gather all information on an individual’s health in a single location, which is private and accessible to that individual only. This can then facilitate a public health service making it possible for people to review their own health information both historically and at the present time – they can then share this information with medical services and research bodies.
In what ways do your products reflect those already found in the healthcare system?
JB: We have developed our services from NHI’s and the Rural Medicine Center’s long and shared experience of the elderly population. We have not been impressed with many of the existing products on the market. Therefore, we have developed these solutions in close cooperation with GMC Rural Medicine Center in Storuman, Västerbotten County Council and the municipality of Storuman in Sweden. It is a unique solution, which consists of a technical application including process, care and training support. In our experience, the implementation of new technology in hospitals does not always run smoothly.
Together we have also invested major resources in the further development of virtual healthrooms. These initiatives include fibre technology for various purposes, remotely controlled cardiac ultrasound through robotics, planning and dimensioning tools for support care and medical services. There is also an app for diabetics which enhances security for adults and children alike.
We are working on refining and streamlining the Digital Doctor Service, where doctors and other health professionals are able to connect to healthrooms via video links – the rooms will be equipped with a range of devices. We are also planning to work with guaranteeing and streamlining the information management to and from care providers’ primary medical data and hospital healthcare production systems.
Your research centre is in Norrland, Sweden, what are the benefits of being based there?
JB: This area has the highest proportion of elderly people and the highest healthcare dependency ratio. If this area continues to develop as is currently the case, researchers expect there to be more retired people in Sweden’s rural municipalities than people of working age by the early 2030s. This is a development that will significantly increase and alter the need for healthcare and medical services, but also affect the chances of recruiting well-trained care professionals too.
The inland municipalities of northern Sweden are benefit our research on account of the population’s imbalanced age structure, whereby 25-30% of residents are over the age of 65. In some municipalities, more than 10% of the population is over the age of 80. In this respect, we are approximately 25 years ahead of the rest of the world. We therefore have a unique opportunity to test medical technology products, working methods and processes on an existing population with an age structure that reflects where many countries will be in 25 years’ time. This demographic advantage, combined with one of the most developed, high-quality broadband networks in the world and cohesive, high-quality patient case note systems provides outstanding opportunities to test new solutions in the care and medical sector.
We are aiming to turn our demographic lead to our advantage. With the help of our unique sample area and research centre, we have the opportunity to develop our own products and services, as well as helping other companies.
How does working with universities and the development of artificial intelligence (AI) help NHI deliver its services?
JB: Together with our close partners Calejo Data Analysis and their global research contacts within the field of AI, we are at the forefront of the development of a digital support system for the healthcare world. AI will be important as we harness the power of IoT and see an increase in big data. Our goal is to create self-learning systems and be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to healthcare. Using new technology, we hope to be able to detect diseases long before treatment is required.
In addition, we strive through our close contacts with the scientific community to research everything we do, so we know that everything we are developing is based on sound knowledge.
Is there anything new in the pipeline for 2017?
JB: We are currently preparing projects in several countries in Africa and Asia, including Kenya, Indonesia, India and Zanzibar. We are also undertaking a full-scale project in extreme rural areas of northern Sweden. With our cloud technology our services works regardless of where in the world the patients are and what support systems the care professionals use.
Public stakeholders in northern Sweden have also joined forces with us to support a collective ambition to become world leaders in harnessing digital technology for health and social care in rural areas. This plan includes an extensive initiative relating to virtual healthrooms in cooperation with municipal healthcare services. To begin with, we are aiming for a dozen virtual healthrooms across eight different municipalities. In time, there will be many more.
The virtual healthroom
A virtual healthroom is a unique unstaffed self-service facility that aims to stay open 24 hours a day for recipients of care in rural areas. It is also possible to install virtual healthrooms in people’s own homes or on their mobiles. If necessary, doctors and other health professionals can connect to these rooms via video links, and the rooms are equipped with a range of devices. People can go into the room to check their blood pressure, take blood and check blood sugar levels, among other procedures. The devices are interlinked with district medical officers’ case note systems and medical services case note systems via a central server.