Nordic healthcare digitisation drives medtech growth

Nordic medtech is growing rapidly as the healthcare sector adopts technologies such as artificial intelligence and the internet of things

The use of digitisation and robotics to modernise Nordic healthcare is increasing demand for artificial intelligence (AI) and internet of things (IoT) technologies.

High demand for patient-focused healthcare technologies has added a new dynamic to the growth path of Nordic medical technology firms (medtechs) providing digitised pathology tools, remote monitoring using AI and AI-assisted surgical solutions.

This focus on healthcare has boosted technology partnerships between state-run medical services providers and medtechs in the Nordics.

Collaboration is becoming more ambitious, extending to state support for tech-centered patient care. Specific areas of interest include e-health diagnostics and remote monitoring apps, in addition to other value-added research and development (R&D) projects run by privately owned medtechs.     

Public-private medtech partnerships are happening much more frequently than before. For example, in Finland, Forum Virium Helsinki (FVH), the City of Helsinki’s innovation company, has rolled out a smart technologies multi-sensory room pilot to treat senior patients suffering from memory disorders.

The pilot, a collaboration with the private medtech sector and located at the Kustaankartano Senior Care Centre in Helsinki, is part of FVH’s co-created Health and Wellbeing Project (CCHW). The CCHW functions as a hub for Finnish municipalities and companies to jointly develop and utilise new technologies to deliver smart, customer-oriented healthcare services.

“Smart technologies help us to improve the quality of life of senior citizens living in serviced homes,” said Peeter Lange, FVH’s project manager. “The work of care staff also benefits from this. Using smart technologies serves to free up time for seniors and carers that can be better spent interacting with others.”

The combination of AI and smart technologies used in the FVH pilot includes an interactive smart wall and virtual-reality headset. Technology is used to calm and stimulate the senses of seniors. Sensory smells and sound effects, such as flowing water, are also used to enhance the overall experience of peace and tranquility for users.

AI is also at the forefront of medtech solutions to enable senior citizens in Sweden to live independently and securely. Nectarine Health, a subsidiary of Brighter, has initiated a test phase in the development of an AI remote monitoring system that allows seniors to reside in their homes for longer, rather than having to transfer to assisted living facilities.

Nectarine’s AI-based remote care system comprises a high-tech wristband, in-home plug-in sensors and a mobile application digital platform. The AI system analyses the wristband wearer’s behavioural patterns, flags possible emergencies or changes in behaviour, and automatically sends alerts to relatives or carers.

The test phase is set to run through the spring, and the project is expected to move into the commercial phase in the second half of 2021. Nectarine is eyeing North America as its primary market for the remote monitoring system.

Sensors, fitted to electrical wall sockets, work off plug-and-play technology to enable home installation, said Matthias Tietze, CEO of Nectarine Health.

“The solution will help families look after their elderly loved ones in new, more proactive ways when supported by AI,” he said. “We see significant potential in the US market for this technology.” 

Read more about medtech in the Nordics

On the operational side, the business and R&D dynamics of Nordic medtech firms continues to be affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. In Sweden, technology group iioote has launched a smart IoT solution called AirIoT to help prevent the spread of Covid and other viruses in indoor environments. The IoT technology supports the control of virus spread by monitoring indoor air quality in real time.

AirIoT is primarily designed as an early-warning system to identify and track the presence of viruses in homes, offices, classrooms and shopping centres, said Robert Spertina, CEO and head of IoT at iioote.

AirIoT’s hub comprises iioote’s WebIoT platform, offering AI functionality. Data-driven models and algorithms are used to generate critical information, enabling improved control of air-conditioning systems and other air quality monitoring assets.

“WebIoT can be integrated via industrial protocols to control equipment and send alarms via email or SMS when threshold levels are breached,” said Spertina. “This allows immediate action to be taken to improve ventilation and safeguard the wellbeing of people in rooms and public spaces.”

Meanwhile, the advance of digitisation in hospital care is the basis for a new partnership between healthcare provider Region of Southern Denmark (Region Syd Danmark/RSD) and medical imaging IT and cyber security technology firm SectraAB.

In January, the RSD went live with a digital pathology system supplied by Sectra. The technology allows pathologists at RSD’s four regional hospitals to conduct reviews and collaborate on cases and caseloads. It also improves patient care efficiencies and significantly shortens cancer treatment turnaround times.

The scalable and modular system also supports other image-intense departments such as radiology, breast imaging, cardiology and orthopaedics.

“We managed to implement the digital pathology solution despite disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Sune Henriksen, president of Sectra Denmark. “RSD’s move to full-scale digital pathology marks a milestone for cancer care in Denmark.”

Nordic medtechs are also busy developing technology in the specialised domain of AI-assisted surgical procedures. Gothenburg-headquartered Ortoma has entered the commercialisation phase of its Ortoma Treatment Solution (OTS), which is based on Ortoma’s AI-assisted surgical technology platform covering the planning and positioning of orthopaedic implants.

The OTS functions as an orthopaedic digital, server-based integrated AI platform designed to optimise patient outcomes through surgical planning, precision surgical navigation, post-operative verification and follow-up.

Improvements in medical science necessitate the use of cutting-edge technology, said Linus Byström, CEO of Ortoma.

“We have demonstrated the solution for selected groups over the past year,” he said. “We are now at the stage where we want to present our solutions to a broader audience, including users, potential commercialisation partners, and our shareholders.”

Meanwhile, in Finland, state research organisation VTT is scaling up R&D to develop intelligent health and wellbeing systems based on AI and diagnostic tools. It is examining the potential of using AI to measure work-related stress levels and serve as an early warning system to detect burnout in employees.

The R&D is being conducted under the VTT-led international [email protected] project, said Johanna Kallio, a senior scientist at VTT.

“Data in [email protected] is obtained from motion detectors embedded in the workplace environment and sensors measuring environmental quality,” she said. “These monitor changes in the movements of employees and working conditions. The data is modelled using algorithms and anomalous behaviour patterns to determine an employee’s stress signature.

“Stress also affects the way we use digital devices, and this can be analysed using software installed on the device.”

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