Finland’s national health data service benefits citizens, healthcare professionals, pharmacies and the society
Finland has quickly become a pioneer in digital health. Its largest national digital healthcare project is the Kanta Service, i.e. the National Archive of Health Information. Kanta is one of the most comprehensive systems of its kind globally, covering already the entire Finnish public healthcare sector as well as most of the private sector.
The development of Kanta began around 2005, and the first laws concerning the digital service were enacted in 2007.
“Digital healthcare services create a win-win situation for Finns and Finland but they are also a necessity. We need digitalization to secure the level, accessibility and cost-effectiveness of our social and healthcare services. Kanta is the cornerstone in this work,” says Permanent Secretary Päivi Sillanaukee from the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.
The Kanta Service includes a Patient Data Repository, electronic prescriptions and My Kanta pages. The public healthcare sector’s transition to the digital Patient Data Repository is already 100 percent completed, while the private sector is quickly following. The repository will cover the entire Finnish healthcare system by 2017. Digital prescription, a unique feature of the Kanta Service, is already largely in use, and the national transition from paper to bits will also be complete in 2017.
My Kanta, a citizen’s personal health page and interface to the Patient Data Repository, is rapidly gaining more users. It allows citizens to examine their health records via Internet and give chosen healthcare professionals access to their information. The service ensures that patient records are kept safe and follow the patient in electronic form, regardless of which healthcare provider they visit. In 2015, Kanta was the third most popular public web service in Finland.
“Digitalization enables true accessibility and participation in one’s own healthcare and can really boost preventive care. It helps healthcare providers utilize and allocate resources more effectively, implement better practices and access patient information on a national level. A prerequisite to all this, of course, was the development of information systems and particularly their usability. The Finnish healthcare legislation is also being updated to enable digitalization,” Sillanaukee says.
The Kanta Service is a collaborative undertaking among the Social Insurance Institution of Finland (Kela), the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, and various social and healthcare organizations.
The Finnish approach
Finland has certain advantages that have supported the development of digital healthcare, namely, strong expertise in ICT and mobile technology, a long history of building national health registers and a tradition of collecting genetic data and biobank samples. It also has a thriving startup ecosystem, and health technology is its fastest growing export.
“We’ve put lots of effort into the national management of our healthcare system as well as into building a digital health strategy and developing our legislation hand in hand with our healthcare system. The biggest challenge was leaving behind old ways of thinking and doing things. Once you’ve managed that, technology is easy. It’s also important to collaborate, communicate and understand the continuing nature of a process of this magnitude. Furthermore, users must be able to trust the service and its security,” says Sillanaukee.
The Kanta Service has already brought about concrete results. Citizens can request the renewal of digital prescriptions online, which has decreased visits to healthcare services. Some healthcare organizations have ceased mailing medical case summaries to patients because summaries are available in My Kanta. The service has also made paper archiving unnecessary.
Kanta’s most recent feature allows citizens to enter their own data – e.g. data from a mobile application that they use – on their My Kanta page and choose which healthcare professionals can access this information. In the future, Kanta will also include social services data. New user services will continue to be developed for both citizens and professionals.
“Many countries offer services similar to Kanta, but they are usually regional or used within a single organization or include a much narrower set of services. As a national comprehensive service, Kanta has attracted wide international interest, and we are in the process of developing it into an exportable service. However, Finland’s digital health sector also includes a number of other interesting initiatives ranging from a Virtual Hospital to highly innovative products and services developed by Finnish healthtech startups. Digitalization is in the very heart of future healthcare,” Sillanaukee says.