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Dental patients in Vantaa to tell AI computers 'where it hurts'

People in Vantaa with a toothache or other dental problem may now receive their first consultation from an artificially intelligent computer rather than a dentist's receptionist or hygienist. One of Finland's first AI-based preliminary patient care systems just opened to the public in the capital region city.

Screen shot of Vantaa's new service. Image: Vantaan kaupunki

The metropolitan city of Vantaa is now offering an algorithm-driven assessment programme to help automate preliminary patient care. Developed by the Finnish company Klinik Healthcare Solutions, the programme is designed to recognise health conditions and deduce the degree of an ailment's urgency.

"In acute situations, the programme's AI suggests that customers contact emergency dental services immediately. The evaluation of the need for care is suspended at this point," says Hanna-Mari Kommonen, an oral hygiene specialist. In less urgent cases, dental service personnel contact the customer on the next business day at the latest.

The service presents a series of questions that ask customers to describe their symptoms, and makes deductions about what kind of dental care is needed.

24/7 help for aching teeth

The goal is to speed up the evaluation process, as the electronic service would be available 24 hours a day. The new service is hoped to help ease up long waiting times for phone consultations and appointments. Additionally, after the virtual consultation, symptoms and complaints will be known to dental staff when employees contact the person to book an appointment.

The new service does not, however, direct the customer to immediately make an online appointment. Finnish law prevents this, stating that actual health professionals must be the ones who decide about what kind of appointments are necessary.

Depending on the urgency assessment, the programme also assists with patient flow management by suggesting that customers book a time, for example, in three days or three weeks. 

Long-term plans for cost-cutting digitalisation

Vantaa has earlier introduced e-services to its health care services with a real-time chat service and a similar Klinik AI programme that has been in use at the Myyrmäki district health care centre since August. 

"Vantaa is one of the first service providers in all of Finland to launch e-services so comprehensively, extending to oral hygiene as well," says Kommonen.

There are plans in Vantaa to further develop the electronic booking services and even roll out remote dental consultations. This would entail oral hygienists making video contact with customers and the use of intraoral cameras.

"The idea is to increase the amount of self-service opportunities. This would mean we could cut down on the personnel we need. Current legislation prohibits us from downsizing our staff, but this service creates added value for our customers," Kommonen says.

How about personal data safety? The developers, Klinik Healthcare Solutions, say the programme has been taken into use without issue in regional health care centres in Central Finland and the municipalities of Saarikka and Vesilahti – and now Vantaa.

"We use a one-way encryption method that doesn't require any passwords or bank codes to log in. Analysis from our data security experts has established that the service is a safe place to operate," says Kommonen.