Injecting Technologies into Finland’s Healthcare System

Cristina Andersson is a frequent speaker on robotics and artificial intelligence, a board member and founder at Airawise Oy, and an author. She has been working with AI and robotics since 2011. After participating in the ThinkX Executive Program in Stockholm, Sweden, Cristina learned how to start forecasting technology futures and began applying her learnings from this program to create a national AI and robotics health and wellness program. In the process, she has made an indelible mark on Finnish healthcare. Here’s her impact story.

Speaking to a group of 20 high school students at a conference in Helsingør, Denmark, Cristina Andersson asked, “In the future, how many of you want to be a nurse taking care of elderly people?”

Not one single hand raised.

Looking out into the crowd of young minds, Cristina worried about the growing number of people in the older generation who might not get the care they need in their advanced years. She realized this ever-increasing global problem could be mitigated by using technology to assist with health, wellness, and caregiving. Connecting the dots, Anderson estimated that artificial intelligence and robotics can be leveraged to fill this gap in healthcare, giving precious work time back to the human medical experts.

This realization spurred Andersson into action. Her goal of creating a national program to help improve understanding of AI and robotics technology included the exploration and use of those technologies.

Why AI and Robotics

In 2011, Cristina wrote a book with her adjunct professor, Jari Kaivo-Oja, called Bohobusiness, in which they discussed technologies like AI, robotics, 3D printing, and the Internet of Things (IoT). They saw that the use of robotics was growing exponentially—which is how Cristina stumbled into the incredibly specialized field of robotics. Her first obstacle was that she didn’t know how to build a robot.

Cristina quickly enrolled in online classes to study quantum technology through MIT and Keio University in Tokyo, Japan, because she believed quantum computing could revolutionize the way we solve the most challenging problems of the universe and humankind.

Cristina knew she would be facing an uphill battle: She needed to educate and inform an entire country about the potential advantages of incorporating technology into Finnish healthcare. But this step carries cultural sensitivities because the country values only the best healthcare for everyone.

Finland Healthcare Post

Pushing the Limits of Healthcare

In 2016, Finland’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Health contacted Cristina to prepare a report on whether AI and robotics were essential in healthcare. She fulfilled the Ministry’s request through a detailed description, which was received positively and would eventually lead to an exploration of the role technology could play in Finland’s healthcare system.

Shortly after submitting this government report, Cristina was instrumental in starting The Finnish National AIRo Program for Health and Well Being, which aims to create a quantum leap in healthcare in Finland. The Institute encapsulates a system of workshops. When it started in 2017, the Institute offered ten workshops for 200 participants dedicated to exploring robotics to provide home healthcare.

After working to develop the Institute, Cristina was invited to be an expert consultant and program coordinator for its main participatory program dedicated to explaining how AI and robotics can be used to assist medicine.

  • Healthcare and wellness: In Finland, there is a regulation that people should be taken care of at home as long as possible. This cultural restriction has proven to be a challenge because even more assistance will be needed to allow aging generations to live independently and with dignity at home. Moreover, addressing how people can care for their diets and hygiene could lengthen the time during which they can live independently in familiar surroundings.
  • Pharmaceuticals: AI and robotics can drastically impact how individuals receive their medicine. Right now, it’s easy to make a mistake that has substantial consequences. Many times, people order too much medication, too little medication, or medication that interacts with or cancels out other medicines. These national workshops have determined that automated medication is a helpful solution. Only 23 percent of people who suffer from severe diseases like Leukemia take their medication correctly. AI reminders and moderators can quickly correct this issue.
  • Hospital settings: Another identified area of improvement is to use robotics in the hospital setting. For example, several robots are used for minimally invasive surgery. But robotics can still be better implemented to assist with logistics, nursing, and laboratory work. A study in Finland found that 60 to 80 percent of nurses dedicate their work time to dealing with logistical issues. This amount of time could quickly diminish through the use of logistical robotics, including software robotics or drug delivery robots, while also making the hospital safer and more effective.
  • Rehabilitation: In Finland every year, there are 14,000 people who experience a brain injury that could be helped remarkably through robotics. While there are some of these robots in Finland, there are not enough. And some studies show that rehabilitation with the help of these kinds of robots is a healthy option in comparison to human-v-human recovery. This new vision of an AI-powered rehabilitation wouldn’t mean human physical therapists couldn’t also be present and supporting patient goals. Instead, the therapist would work alongside the rehab robots. AI could assist with wellness coaching and help people who cope with loneliness or other mental health issues. Of course, robots are no substitute for human beings, but they can extend the services of a human nurse.

In addition to these applications, medical AI technology can be combined with machine vision and sensors to do amazing things. IBM’s Watson has analyzed a cancer tumor better than a human doctor. In the future, you could send a nano-sized robot straight to a tumor or a specific target that needs medication. AI is helping healthcare to become even more minimally invasive and more effective, while also creating a better quality of life for people who live with various diseases.

Having a Successful Impact

Cristina Andersson and experts at the Finnish National AIRo Program have seen several hundred people come through their workshops—from doctors and nurses to members of work unions and government entities—people from all over the world who are interested in learning more.

Finland’s use of artificial intelligence has increased markedly since 2016, not only because of this successful workshop program but also because of the growth of AI software and robotics. The program aims to bring about a quantum leap forward in healthcare in Finland, attract more AI and robotics-powered products and companies to Finland, and create success for these companies that seek to create positive change.

Cristina’s successful workshops have opened up promising opportunities for research and new pilots, tests, and proofs of concept in new applications of AI and robotics in healthcare. Her workshops have successfully spread to other organizations throughout the country, paired with new robotics research from the Finnish National Center of Sciences. And recently, robots are being tested to assist in the central hospital of Turku.