Health Turns into Bits

Self-monitoring, cloud computing services, remote consulting, robotics… Digital applications take health technology to new heights. Finnish companies are striving for top positions in health technology.

In this uncertain world, you can be sure that there’s always money in at least one business sector: healthcare.

The sector is very conservative and highly regulated, but cost pressures are forcing even giant public organisations to open up to change. To treat the ageing population and clamp down on health costs, new technology must be adopted.

This translates first and foremost as digital solutions: people monitoring their own health, data analysis applications, remote health care, virtual services, medical robots and automation systems.

Robotics has already been utilised in operations, cancer patients relay monitoring data to their care team and MRI pictures can be sent to the other side of the world for analysis.

Perhaps the next step will be microchip implants as a patient data register, or a top surgeon will operate on your knee all the way from India using a robot hand. Elderly and chronically ill people will be able to manage at home for longer, thanks to remote care and safety systems.

Giant business, large savings

We can only surmise about the scale of the health business in the future. In any case, on a global level we are talking about colossal sums.

“Even estimations of thousands of billions of euros are not uncommon,” says Marketing Manager Jori-Matti Savolainen from NewIcon Oy, which specialises in medical service automation.

The wildest bets usually include the whole health technology sector, from traditional hospital beds and laboratory equipment to patient data systems and innovations in biomedicine.

Digital innovations alone form quite a heap. Some of them – such as more and more advanced but expensive diagnostics – make you wonder what societies and individuals will be able to afford. However, the majority of new innovations will bring desperately needed savings.

Antibiotics from a robot

This is the foundation for NewIcon’s business. The Kuopio-based company started with industrial robots, but decided to specialise in medical storage automation instead. Little by little, it has extended its field of know-how to other automation solutions.

“Hospitals have little choice when it comes to medication manufacture. A dilution robot can manufacture intravenous antibiotics in large batches in a sterile way. This multiplies the robot’s operating time and production capacity,” Savolainen explains.

He believes that smart medicine cabinets will change the way hospitals operate even more than robots. NewIcon recently delivered some of these cabinets to the operating theatres, intensive care unit and recovery ward of the Kuopio hospital after its extension.

“The sensors in the cabinet recognise the user, and the hospital’s pharmacy receives real-time information about medicine consumption on each ward.”

Savolainen explains that in the current model it is hard for anyone to know what medication is used and who prescribed it. This is part of the reason why statutory stocks tie down capital unnecessarily.

Care routines on a cloud

One of the health innovations consumers are probably most familiar with are the various meters that collect data on the processes of the human body, and their Internet applications. In future, monitoring a person’s health may rest mainly on the shoulders of the individual themselves.

This has been the case for quite some time with some diseases, such as type 1 diabetes. Helsinki-based Mendor Oy discovered a niche and decided to improve the treatment of diabetes with digital technology. First they launched a pocket-sized blood glucose meter that takes care of the simplest routines with no hassle.

Their newest product is a package that combines a blood glucose meter, cloud computing service and a hospital or health centre's analysis system.

“We were 25 and 26-year-old students when we started our company and there were lots of sceptics. We were admitted to Technopolis Ventures’ business incubator for a couple of years and that got us going,” CEO Kristian Ranta says.

Nine years later Mendor has sold 180,000 blood glucose meters, mainly in Western Europe. They only have a few competitors worldwide.

“We have to get our references from abroad because our clients are mainly public operators. Unfortunately, the Finnish system favours multinational giants,” Ranta says.

Mendor has started to make some headway in Finland too, but it is now looking towards the truly large markets, and has laid some foundations in China and the United States. In the consultancy company Deloitte’s most recent Technology Fast 50 listing, Mendor snatched the first place in the Rising Stars category by multiplying its turnover by almost 40 times.

Room for innovations

Savolainen and Ranta have a lot of faith in the possibilities of Finnish companies to succeed in the field of health innovations. The sector is not without its challenges, mainly due to strict regulations and fixed ways of thinking, but Finland’s digital know-how is among the best in the world.

“Even Facebook is considering entering the health business, which tells you something about the potential of this sector. Google has already taken its first steps, as has Apple with its smartwatch,” Ranta points out.

Savolainen stresses that development in the sector is still in its infancy.

“Hospital systems are very old-fashioned. There is an incredible amount of room for innovations,” he says.

Ranta mentions the Finnish inventions of the video doctor service MeeDoc, the treatment monitoring system Netmed used by cancer patients and the You-app for well-being featuring Jamie Oliver.

“They were developed by extremely cool companies that are really going places. If you can find the funding, the possibilities in the health technology sector are endless!”

Power from medical roboticsterveys_210x.jpg

Company: NewIcon Oy, Kuopio and Jyväskylä

Main products: medical storage automation applications for hospitals and pharmacies, medication manufacture robots, smart medicine cabinets

Staff: 35 (March 2015)

Founded: 2007, a year later in the health technology sector

Turnover: about MEUR 4 (2014), target MEUR 8 (2015)

Markets: Finland, Russia, Israel, Poland, Latvia; foundations being laid in Norway, Denmark, Great Britain, the United Arab Emirates, China

Special: The only Finnish company to offer solutions for medical service automation. The modernisation of the sector will open up massive markets worldwide.

Easier diabetes careterveys310x230.jpg

Company: Mendor Oy, Helsinki

Main products: Self-monitoring devices for diabetes patients, cloud computing services, analytics and real-time communication with hospitals and care institutions

Staff: 28 (March 2015)

Founded: 2006

Turnover: target more than MEUR 10 (2017)

Markets: Italy, Germany, Portugal, Benelux, Estonia, Sweden, Finland and taking first steps in China

Special: 95% of turnover comes from abroad. Primary customers are healthcare institutions and municipalities, but the devices are also sold directly to patients.

The health and care sector and the IT sector go hand in hand

Medicine and digital solutions meet in more and more health innovations. Technopolis wants to offer enterprises fruitful meetings, and new clusters of companies within these fields have begun to spring up, especially in Oulu and Tampere.

In the north, the Oulu University Hospital is acting as the engine of this development, with a large renovation project starting next year. The world’s smartest hospital will be built in the Kotinkangas district in Oulu, replacing structures built in the 1970s.

“This project, worth half a billion euros, is an Internet of Things in miniature, in a way. The super-modern hospital will open up a huge range of business opportunities and so it attracts a lot of business, as well as researchers,” Technopolis Oulu’s Business Development Manager Jouko Uusitalo explains.

Kotinkangas is already home to Technopolis’s Medipolis building, which houses several health technology companies. The Kiviharjunlenkki road nearby has attracted a lot of operators within the IT sector.

“Health technology is a growing trend here, with some companies settling in the district of Peltola too. No doubt this trend will only become stronger in time,” Uusitalo predicts.

A similar development has been considered in Tampere, in the Finnmed area administered by the TAYS Central Hospital, where the Technopolis campus of the same name also resides. For the present, it is mainly used by the Hospital District and the Norlandia Care patient hotel.

“Slightly surprisingly, innovators within the health sector have been more attracted to our Hermia campus, which is known as an IT cluster,” says Sales Manager Henri Rantalainen.

On the other hand, Rantalainen can see the logic behind this trend. It proves how closely connected information technology and medicine are: often the line is scarcely perceptible.