November 15, 2017

Guest blog post: The CleverHealth Network — an ultimate team to win the game in healthcare big data analytics

Miikka Korja

Chief Innovation Officer, Associate Professor, Consultant Neurosurgeon, Helsinki University Hospital (HUS)

The sexy media hype around healthcare big data analytics has not started to fade away, yet very few - if any - healthcare organizations have succeeded in living up to the hype.

This is partly due to overoptimistic and sometimes even fabricated marketing promises provided by small and giant health technology companies. These captivating promises are bought by gullible healthcare professionals, whose understanding of specifically artificial intelligence (AI) –based big data analytics is far from outstanding. In highly democratic and equal Nordic countries, the healthcare system has been built on mutual trust and transparency between all stakeholders, not so much on financial and personal incentives.

In order to regain trust and to truly create widely useful clinical AI solutions, we have launched a revolutionary ecosystem that hopefully forces companies to reprogram their business as well as marketing strategies, and play for the team; the team that wins for people from North to South, from poor to rich.

In Nordic countries, similar to Canada, health and social care services are publicly funded and insured, making the services available to all at minimal or no charge. During the last couple of decades, aging populations and the costly welfare agenda that is personalized medicine,have created financial pressures threatening the tax-funded systems. This, in turn, has led to political debates about how to save the systems.

As “In Reason We Trust” stickers are not popular among politicians, not even in Finland, the government desires to follow the American path in reforming Finnish health and social care. In the wake of governmental whims, healthcare professionals have intervened in the reform to counteract the detrimental changes ahead. In this game of politics, healthcare big data analytics and solutions have potential to save the Nordic principle of equality - provide equal care to people from North to South, from poor to rich.

Medical patient data has been archived in digital format for over a decade in Finland, and 100% of Finnish healthcare service providers use electronic health record systems. Moreover, every Finnish citizen has access to their accumulated health data by using a nationwide “MyData” repository – the first nation in the world to offer this. In other words, not only the massive high-quality health data repositories but also the Finnish culture of trust and exceptional transparency create superb possibilities to develop patient-centered big data solutions.

As the tax-funded health and social care system in Finland does not enable public hospitals to invest in building powerful in-house infrastructures with focus on innovation, that expertise must come from outside. This means working with private companies. Based on our experience in collaborative big data and AI projects with companies over the last 4-5 years, one fact has become evident: too many companies sell unwarranted and expensive promises with limited expertise. 

Therefore, we have launched a unique ecosystem for big data and AI projects: the CleverHealth Network. This ecosystem brings a powerful group of IT companies and leading healthcare professionals to the same table, where everyone is obliged to share their expertise openly and honestly. As far as we are aware, such an approach has never been implemented before. One of the 14 team members in this ecosystem is Tieto. 

The team is built on transparency and trust

Today’s world is full of ecosystems. Everyone understands that bringing together companies and healthcare professionals with a wide variety of expertise has great potential to facilitate and fasten the development of new solutions. But what makes our ecosystem special? 

First and foremost, this ecosystem is more like a team that nurtures honesty, trust and transparency. In the medical and academic world, we have a long tradition of honesty, trust and transparency. Patient-doctor relationships, as well as collaborative international and national research projects, are built on honesty, trust and transparency. For instance, in international research collaborations, we share our ideas and expertise very openly, even if others are actively conducting research on the same topic.

In the CleverHealth Network team, the same standard is required from the companies. Obviously, most businesses have a culture where they do not share their ideas and expertise with other companies that are often seen as rivals. In the team, if you continue playing for yourself, not for the team, chances to become exposed are high, and any dishonesty or unwarranted promises are widely spread among the team members. No one wishes to see that day, as the consequences are surely disadvantageous for the team member.

Secondly, in order to succeed, the team necessitates that all members have a common goal and that individual members use their best skills to achieve that goal. All CleverHealth Network projects stem from ideas suggested by healthcare professionals. Companies can join one or more projects, or alternatively opt out. Through the interaction of companies with diverse expertise, the project team can create even more value than the sum of its key players.

From a company perspective, little is gained by joining a project where the company has nothing to offer. By being honest and transparent, the companies can learn enormously from each other and from healthcare professionals about topics in which they have limited knowledge. When the key players are in right positions and the right mindset is achieved, the ecosystem can create revolutionary innovations quickly and cost-efficiently. These innovations can have population-wide effects.

HUS big data

Developing new big data and AI-based healthcare solutions requires massive amounts of high-quality data. The Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS) has 23 hospitals with more than 22,000 employees, and sees 1.6 million patient visits a year, conducting over 100,000 procedures. 

At the academic HUS, we have a great wealth of accurate and scientifically validated data available, as nearly 100% of patient data is in a digital format and many patients have participated in previous research studies. This data has been gathered over a period of more than a decade, enabling us to use historical data for prognostic and predictive models.

With Tieto, we have developed a tailored data lake solution that combines all the data from different hospital IT systems, of which there are more than a hundred, into one place - the HUS data lake. The data lake solution offers relatively easy pseudonymizing and even anonymizing tools, which comply with strict patient privacy and safety regulations. Therefore, the pseudonymized patient data can be utilized in collaborative projects with companies.

The new rising sun

At this time of year, when cold darkness intrudes into offices throughout Nordics, the CleverHealth Network is off to a great start. During the very first steps, some companies misunderstood that the Network is a shortcut to sell their services and products to the giant HUS. Today, the mood is upbeat among team members — doctors, nurses, other HUS staff members and company representatives – as the companies have perceived the indented meaning of the team. That is to get company research and development personnel, not the sales representatives, involved in co-creation.

HUS continues to be one of the world leaders in offering top quality care, and it will become one in implementing big data-driven predictive care. With advances like this ecosystem, we see a great future ahead, as we are able to improve people’s health and wellbeing in a nationwide or even worldwide scale. If the politicians will not destroy this new way of collaboration by outsourcing in-house IT experts to external units, and if we can keep up this impressive pace, and if we succeed in establishing simple and transparent ways of working as a team, we are likely to win big time.

Despite the many ifs, I believe I am destined to write another blog, my second one, about the success stories brought about by the Network in a year’s time. 

Miikka Korja, A/Prof, Chief Innovation Officer, Consultant Neurosurgeon, HUS


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