Nordics at the forefront of extending the reach of virtual healthcare

Having visited the Nordic countries of Europe many times over the last 13 years, it comes as no surprise to me that telemedicine is at the forefront of regional initiatives to improve healthcare access and delivery.This is particularly true in rural areas of the Nordics where the nearest hospital or clinic may be hours away.

I have fond memories of visiting Tromso, Norway, (pictured above) during the summer of 2008. As I reported here on HealthBlog, Tromso is home to the University of North Norway, the northernmost university in the world. The university was founded in the early 1970s with a medical school to help secure Norway's northern regions with a sustainable population of physicians. Tromso is also home to the internationally recognized Norwegian Center for Telemedicine (pictured below), chaired by Dr. Steinar Pedersen. If telemedicine was "invented" somewhere, Tromso would certainly be among the candidates

Over the years and several more visits to both Norway and Sweden, I have seen further evidence of advances in the use of telehealth and telemedicine across the Nordics. That's why I look forward to an upcoming trip to Sweden where I'll have an opportunity to learn more about a project being spearheaded by Microsoft partner, Nordic Health Innovation (NHI) along with the research organization known as Glesbygdsmedicinskt Centrum.

NHI is a company with two decades of experience in developing technology for virtual healthcare in rural areas. One of their more recent initiatives is the establishment of "virtual health rooms" where citizens in rural areas of Sweden can check blood pressure, monitor blood sugar and perform other tests. When needed, they can initiate video visits with medical experts for consultations.The unstaffed virtual health rooms are open 24 hours a day and conveniently located near schools or other public gathering places in rural communities. NHI is working with Sigma IT Consulting, medical services systems company Cambio, and Microsoft (Azure) to build out a flexible information exchange that will integrate information from NHI and their virtual health rooms with the Swedish hospital case notes system and a citizen-centric personal health record solution.

Advances in computers, smartphones, and video and audio technology over the Internet and cellular networks have made it possible to deliver telehealth services using widely available, commodity solutions. The availability of so-called universal communication & collaboration solutions such as Skype and Skype for Business can extend access to information and virtual care literally across the planet. If anything is holding back the availability of telemedicine services today it is not the technology but rather payment systems and regulatory issues that are out of synch with virtual healthcare. However, here in America and around the world I do see those barriers slowly coming down as county's seek more efficient, less costly ways to deliver health information and medical services to their citizens.

I hope to explore this topic a bit more during my upcoming visit to Sweden later this month. I'll be meeting with Microsoft customers and partners and providing a keynote at the Digital Health Days conference in Stockholm. For certain, I hope to have an opportunity to learn more about the good work of innovative partners like NHI who are working tirelessly to provide more convenient and affordable access to healthcare for citizens of Sweden as well as other countries around the globe.

Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft