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AI set to assist health centres patients in Finland

In the future, patients contemplating a hospital visit could benefit from AI, helping them determine whether they should seek medical care or not.

Lääkäri kuuntelee stetoskoopilla lapsen hengitysääniä neuvolassa.
Artifical intelligence in healthcare will help to predict how quickly a patient needs to see a doctor. Image: Yle

Patients heading to hospital emergency or considering a doctor’s appointment in Finland could likely benefit from artificial intelligence in the future.

The AI will be able to draw on medial records to determine whether someone should seek medical care. It may also be able to predict the likelihood of certain illnesses.

How it works

When it comes to minors, a child’s parent first feeds information into an online system about the child’s condition. The AI application will then analyse the information and combine it with previous information on the child's medical history that’s already stored in the a health database. On this basis the AI indicates whether seeking medical attention is acute or if it’s possible to wait a few days.

This type of application is currently being developed at hospitals in Lapland and Northern Ostrobothnia, with plans to adopt usage of the app in 2021.

The Lapland hospital district has been gathering information on patients, hospital staff, services and finances since 2014.

Janne Okkonen, head of the application project for Lapland Hospital, is responsible for developing data management for Lapland’s health and social reform ('Sote' in Finnish).

"Artificial intelligence has many facets," says Okkonen.

"At later stages we can bring in a proactive dimension, for example, how information about a patient's health and morbidity are used," he says.

Ethical considerations

A patient’s medical needs can be anticipated both on the individual and general population level. In practice this means that AI can be used to consider how much money or staff is allocated for various hospital services.

It may also be able to predict the likelihood of certain illnesses.

Predicting the future may have risks if illnesses are incorrectly forecast, admits Okkonen. But he underlines the fact that there's always a human involved in making decisions based on the patient-application interaction.

”The diagnosis of an illness is always made by a doctor and not a device," says Okkonen. "The application or device only provides information."

Avaintec, the app's developer, said the ethical handling of information has been a key consideration. At this time privacy laws prevent collating an individual's data from different sources into a specific profile.

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