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At WoHIT, a Finnish HIT Leader Details a Groundbreaking Nationwide Health Data Initiative

November 27, 2016
by Mark Hagland
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Finnish health data expert Jaana Sinipuro talks about a group of initiatives in Finland set to break new ground on healthcare—and health

Healthcare IT innovation is plunging ahead in the Nordic countries—the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland, plus Finland—with Nordic HIT innovation leading Europe and the world, in many areas, including big data around population health, linking genomic research and patient care, and creating nationwide and region-wide data-sharing.

In an article entitled “Finnish Data Design—a New Era?” published in January of this year, Jukka Vahti, a communications specialist at SITRA, the Finnish Innovation Fund, a Finnish public organization sponsored by the Finnish parliament that sponsors innovative work in social welfare services, education, and technological development, wrote that “Rapidly progressing digitization is shaking the foundations of our society in more ways than one: while the nature of work is transforming and services are playing a more central role in the production structure of society, expectations and needs related to public-sector services are changing. Digitization is also opening up countless new opportunities for designing and providing social welfare and healthcare services in a completely new way. In late 2015,” Vahti wrote, “SITRA launched a new set of projects preparing for the establishment of a body focused on gathering and coordinating well-being data. Known as Isaacus, the service is a digital health hub aimed at responding to the challenges posed to society by rapid change.” Indeed, he wrote, placing health IT innovation work in Finland into the context of a decades-long societal push for design innovation there, “Digitization could usher in the dawn of a new golden age of Finnish design. This new Finnish design is about using our existing, abundant data reserves and supporting the creation of ecosystems around them. Data is a natural resource. By using it, and in particular by drawing together data from various sources, we can create new Finnish classics that could become internationally renowned export assets.”

Indeed, it is in that context—a society-wide concern for enhancing the quality of life for all Finns—that SITRA has become involved in an innovative initiative to harness data nationwide to improve the health of everyone in Finland. As Vahti wrote in a Nov. 15 article entitled “The Finns in Barcelona: This is why you should be interested in #HealthDataDesign,” a large delegation of Finnish healthcare IT leaders headed for Barcelona this month to participate in the World of Health IT (WoHIT) Conference, sponsored by the Chicago-based Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), with the intent to share with fellow Nordic and European healthcare IT leaders ideas around how to enhance health across countries and regions through the leveraging of data and IT.

And one of the Finnish healthcare IT leaders helping to lead a fascinating initiative is Jaana Sinipuro, whose title is leading specialist in the Digital Health Hub at SITRA. Sinipuro is helping to lead the architecting of what is known as “Isaacus—the Digital Health Hub.” The Isaacus initiative is preparing to collect health status and health data from across all relevant databases in Finland—not only those from the provider sector of Finnish healthcare, but also from social welfare agencies and other sources—in order to improve the capabilities of researchers to uncover social welfare and health status patterns across Finnish society, and therefore support the development of new policies and programs to address issues such as chronic disease and the social determinants of health in that country.


Jaana Sinipuro

Sinipuro sat down during WoHIT with Healthcare Informatics Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland to discuss the Isaacus initiative and the prospects for leveraging big data to make huge leaps in social welfare planning in Finland. Below are excerpts from that interview.

Please share with us a bit about the background and origins of this project. How did all of this start?

This is a project that started two years ago. SITRA is an organization that is owned by the Finnish Parliament. We run on our own capital. We call ourselves a “think and do tank.” We’re a self-sustaining agency, meaning that we’re responsible for supporting ourselves financially. We work very closely with different ministries. Meanwhile, you’ve probably heard of the Gartner concept of the digital business platform; what we’re trying to do in Finland is to create a data broker with access to all data sources—care data, social care sources—we are trying to put together social care and healthcare data—that’s unique. So this will encompass people, information, and things: together, we will gather and produce intelligence, and above that, we will be working to improve ecosystems [of data and information].

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