Designs for health

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In order to make best use of digitality to promote wellness, businesses and governments have shifted their focus from software to services.

Finland has the highest number of digital health startups per capita in the world, with health-tech comprising almost half of all Finnish high-tech exports.

“We will see some major advancements in the area of healthcare, wellbeing, and wellness in the next couple of years. Mobile solutions, the internet of things, digitalization, and data security will play a major role in this transformation,” says Mirja Kaarlela, director for large companies and public organizations at the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation, Tekes.

Noona Healthcare and Combinostics are among the leading Finnish health-tech startups that combine software savvy with great service design. Noona is a mobile service that provides cancer centers with a holistic, real-time view of their patients’ wellbeing. Combinostics offers tools for Alzheimer’s disease diagnostics. 

Tech meets emotion

Some of the most successful Finnish entrepreneurs have gone straight to the US to start their businesses. Such was the case with BetterDoctor, founded by ex-Nokia employees Ari Tulla and Tapio Tolvanen (pictured right) in San Francisco three years ago. 

The concept is simple: the company helps people connect with the best doctors through its consumer app, marketing services, and app programming interface (API).

“Our mission is to increase transparency in healthcare and help consumers make better decisions,” says Avesta Omar, designer at BetterDoctor.

Omar adds that the designer’s role has changed drastically as businesses have started to see technology as only a small part of the total service offering.

“In order to provide the best user experience we have to understand both technology and the emotions of the people we help,” she says.

BetterDoctor would not have been able to develop its business in a highly regulated European healthcare environment. The US offers companies more room for innovation.

Google is the competition

“New technologies do not shape the world – people with new technologies do,” says Marco Steinberg, CEO of Helsinki-based Snowcone&Haystack, a company specializing in helping governments tackle complex challenges from sustainability to healthcare.

Prior to starting his company two years ago, Steinberg was strategic design director at Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund. Before that, he worked as an associate professor at the Harvard Design School.

During his ten years at Harvard, Steinberg saw how American businesses started to shift their focus from ICT to service design. 

“As we can see, the same shift is now happening in Finland and other European countries,” he says. 

Good design adds transparency, and many public services would work much better if designers had more influence in public administration, says Steinberg. 

“When we meet governments online, they’re only keen on telling us how they’re structured, rather than connecting us with what is relevant to us. That logic has to be inverted.”

In the UK, the Government Cabinet Office founded the government digital services (GDS) team three years ago with the aim of radically improving public online services.

“The government saved over half a billion euros in direct costs, and radically improved service efficiency and citizen satisfaction. Their success was based on the realization that this was a user-centered challenge, not an ICT challenge,” says Steinberg. 

“People don’t come back if you don’t provide them with the same user experience as Google, Facebook, and other online leaders. The GDS team understood that their competition was Google, not another government department,” he adds.

Text by Jorma Leppänen
Photos by iStock and manufacturers

A longer version of this article was originally published in Finnair's Blue Wings magazine (November 2015).

Published October 27, 2015

Category: Collaboration, Economy

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