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Finland’s biggest healthcare district may sink €200m into the red

The health district hardest hit by Covid-19 plans to use more digital services to overcome the shortfall and backlogs.

Puhelin, jonka ruudulla palautteenantoviesti.
In the future, more doctors' appointments will be handled partly or completely via digital devices. Image: Matti Myller / Yle

The Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS), which covers the region hardest hit by Covid-19, may suffer a deficit of 150–200 million euros this year.

HUS posted a budget deficit of 70.4 million euros in the first four months of this year. The healthcare district’s managing board estimates that the deficit for this year may soar to 150–200 million euros due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In order to cut costs and cope with backlogs caused by the crisis, HUS plans to expand the use of digital care.

"For example, many follow-up visits, where patients and doctors discuss test results and decide on further treatment, can well be handled through remote visits. So too can training for dialysis self-treatment at home, for instance," HUS’s CEO Juha Tuominen said on Wednesday.

HUS has long been moving toward replacing physical visits with digital care, but Tuominen said the coronavirus epidemic has accelerated the process.

The healthcare district’s Health Village online service now offers about 100 partially or completely digital care pathways. Remote technology, which is already widely used in psychiatry, has proliferated during the coronavirus pandemic in other areas of treatment.

"Cheaper if people are well"

Tuominen said that expanding the use of digital visits can lower the threshold for seeking care and make it easier for those who cannot easily travel to a hospital or clinic for a variety of reasons. He adds that digital visits are also easier to integrate with technological services that help in diagnoses, reminders and dosage instructions, for instance. This, he argues, will lead to better health and lower costs for society.

In his words, "it’s cheaper if people are well than if they are ill".

The CEO acknowledged there will be many challenges in the digital shift for both patients and healthcare professionals, but insists that it will turn out to be worthwhile after any initial hiccups.

With the capital and its surroundings bearing the brunt of Covid-19 cases in Finland, 2020 will leave a major dent in HUS finances.

So far additional funding promised by the state will only cover about one third of the income losses, Tuominen estimated, noting that HUS’s 24 member municipalities will have to make up the shortfall within the next four years.

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