Can digitalisation make our healthcare sustainable?

Our healthcare is struggling with sustainability challenges. If the global healthcare system were a nation, it would be the 5th biggest greenhouse gas producer in the world. On top of that, the healthcare system is a significant contributor to toxicity and waste production due to disposable materials and the high use of chemicals. The healthcare system also contributes to social sustainability, as not everyone has equal access to services.

At the global scale, health inequalities are striking, and even in the Finnish or European context, they are a major. Moreover, all nations are struggling with the rise of healthcare costs. The costs of healthcare have been rising and are predicted to continue doing so, reaching levels which are not sustainable anywhere.

Digitalisation is seen as one important mechanism to tackle sustainability challenges in healthcare. Data-driven decision-making can help us understand the contributors to health and make informed decisions that are not only better for individuals but also for society and the planet.

European efforts to make health data available and accessible through European Health Data Space show us a vision where data will guide us to getting healthier. By 2030, European citizens will have better access to their personal health data and can use that to better understand their health status and the services available to them. However, to get the best impact from health data, we need to ensure that the people working in healthcare and health-related professions, as well as the citizens, have the competencies to fully embrace this vision of data-driven healthcare. This means we need to develop education models for future-proofing our health professionals and invest in the digital skills of all people – young and old, abled and disabled.

The University of Oulu is building strategic competence in technologies that can make these visions a reality. Visions of future wireless communication systems, advanced sensing, and intelligent software solutions are all elements that can be designed to pave the road towards more sustainable healthcare. With the 6GESS – 6G-Enabled Sustainable Society profiling effort – the University of Oulu guides the visionary technology work with a sustainability focus.

Finland is a forerunner in digital health data solutions. We have a history of successfully building national infrastructures for health data and a long tradition of using the data. These experiences and competence are valued in the global context. Our efforts in exploring digital health as the enabler of sustainable societies will ensure we can continue creating impact also in the future.

You can find this story and other fresh views on 6G research in 6G Waves magazine.

Writer professor Minna Isomursu is the theme leader of citizen-centred health data solutions at the University of Oulu’s 6G-Enabled Sustainable Society (6GESS) profiling area. Her work focuses on leveraging digitalisation to enhance healthcare sustainability and accessibility, contributing significantly to the field through research and strategic leadership.

Last updated: 10.4.2024