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Feeling fine in Finland

Finland has estimated the value of international medical tourists’ expenditures to approximately 15 million Euros annually.

According to a recent report by the Global Burden of Disease study published by the medical journal The Lancet, the quality of healthcare services in Finland are among the best globally. The country’s modern hospitals, private clinics and top specialists’ welcome patients of all ages, from around the world, and are known to provide a comprehensive range of high-quality medical services that are reasonably priced. The country also frequently features high in the list of the leading countries in terms of quality of life and also topped the recent World Happiness Report.

Plus, Finland boasts the cleanest air you can breathe in the world, and tourists here can explore exciting activities such as Northern Light spotting, enjoying the Midnight Sun, husky and snowmobile safaris, trying out the famous Finnish city saunas, or taking a trip to Santa Claus village. All this and more makes Finland an ideal destination to rest and recuperate.

In an interview, Maarit Haavisto-Koskinen, Executive Director of Medical Tourism Association Finland, said: “According to our national vision, Finland will grow as a leading medical tourism destination among the Nordic countries by 2023. Our goal is to become one of the most popular health destinations in Europe. The vision is stated in the strategy of the Medical Tourism Association Finland.”

She highlighted that Finland has estimated the value of international medical tourists’ expenditures to approximately 15 million Euros annually. The country doesn’t systematically collect statistics about international medical tourists by nationalities. However, patients from Finland’s neighbouring country, Russia, are among the majority of international medical tourists visiting the country. “Finland has been a popular leisure travel destination for Russian citizens for several decades, and they are now finding the country as the go-to for medical travel. Also, cancer patients from Sweden make a significant share among international medical tourists,” she added.

Highlighting health tech

Furthermore, Finland boasts a rapidly growing ecosystem for health start-ups. The country has continuously implemented a health sector growth strategy that focuses on health technology and building a coherent ecosystem for biomedical research and innovation, digital health and personalised medicine. One such innovation is Medanets, a Finnish software company developing a mobile point-of-care solution for caregivers to be used inside hospitals and healthcare centres. With the solution, nurses can browse and record patient data real-time via smart device while with the patient. Data is transferred directly into the Electronic Health Record of the hospital. The app can perform well in dead spots (out of wi-fi coverage) and with interrupted connections (offline capabilities).

Veli Juola, Chief Operating Officer, Medanets said: “We are not bringing the customer a discrete new system to run parallel with all the other systems, but one that integrates with the customer’s existing electronic health record/medical record systems (EHR). Thus, allowing the EHR systems to be used more easily, effectively and safely. So far, we have integrated our solution to six leading EHR systems in the Nordics. We have existing partnerships with EHR players such as TietoEvry, CGI, CGM and Cerner and are working in cooperation with them especially in the Nordics. As of today, we have around 35 hospitals and several health care centres as our customers.”

He further said that the company is continuously developing the app so that it can have more functionalities, such as patient medication browsing and administration, which is one of the latest features that is set to bring additional value to customers and improve patient safety.

“We are also looking for new export possibilities in Europe and also outside Europe,” Juola said. “We visited Arab Health 2019 and found out that there are similar needs as here, so it is an interesting market area for us.”

Pioneering treatments

Treating cancer is becoming more individualised thanks to the development of new pharmaceuticals and treatment techniques, for example, in the field of radiotherapy. The cornerstone of individual treatments lies in the diagnostics and treatment planning. At the moment, genetic testing is increasing rapidly, especially when planning treatment for cancer patients. With the help of the genetic test results, it is now becoming possible to choose the right medicines and avoid drugs with low treatment response and harmful side effects.

Finland’s Docrates Cancer Center makes use of the knowledge of both the human genome and the cancer genome in its treatments. The Center is located in the hub of the Finnish Capital Helsinki and its seaside facilities are designed for patient-centred care. It receives almost 40 per cent of its patients come from abroad – mostly from Nordic and Baltic countries and Russia.

Dr. Tom Wiklund, Docrates Chief Clinical Director and Specialist in Medical Oncology and Radiotherapy, said: “We use several different genetic and other kinds of tests aimed at better understanding – through the careful profiling of a tumour – which drugs should be used (e.g. targeted drugs) and which drugs should be avoided because they are likely to be ineffective. The tests can also help to determine the primary site of cancer in situations where a metastatic cancer is diagnosed without an obvious primary tumour. The tests may also provide further information when making a prognosis for cancer. The tests are done using tissue, blood or saliva samples.”

The doctor highlighted that when planning radiotherapy treatments, Docrates physicists are utilising artificial intelligence (AI) assisted software to plan a precise treatment for the patient as possible. “Our Center has long been at the global forefront when using the latest treatments and effective techniques, especially for prostate cancer. We have been successfully using multimodal treatment strategy for prostate cancer with external and internal radiotherapies alongside hormonal treatments and chemotherapy and also have been active in treating patients with advanced prostate cancer with the newest experimental radionuclide drug treatments such as lutetium-PSMA.

“The new and still experimental treatment has proven to be promising, quick and effective in removing metastases of prostate cancer from the prostate, lymph nodes, bones, lungs and liver. Also, the treatment is often suitable even for patients who have not been able to use other means of treatment due to considerable side effects or whose disease keeps advancing or recurring despite treatment,” he explained.

Haavisto-Koskinen said that since ageing of the population is a megatrend in developed countries, the rate of diseases such as cancer and dementia is set to increase significantly. “Awareness about the healthy way of living, the importance of high-quality nutrition and physical exercise, is a rising trend, and we believe in increasing interest in, for instance, performing regular health check-ups. The use of AI applications will grow dramatically year by year,” she concluded.

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