At the end of August, the Finnish government decided in its budget to fund an authority that oversees access to and use of social and health care data. Legislation covering the authoritative body will be taken up by Parliament this fall – after a long period of preparation. Upon coming into effect, the law would do away with a lot of the bureaucracy that has hindered the use of the national registries and social and health services’ data to their full potential.

At the same time, the use of data pools, which have in practice been limited to only a few organizations, such as THL, will become more widely available.

Data bases have often been compared to oil or the mining industry. The analogy is suitable in a lot of ways. Many of the potential benefits from natural resources, as with the public sector’s data, remain unfulfilled if the state does not enable their use and processing into highly value-added end products.

On the other hand, the comparison is inappropriate, because data doesn’t become depleted in the way natural resources do. The active use of data improves its quality and, by sharing information, we create new information.

In order to take advantage of data, as with natural resources, we must also think about the role of business. What role does it have in processing data and bringing about its full benefits?

A Balancing Act between Business and Public Sector Interests

In light of the new legislation, is it possible for Finland to develop into a sought-after, internationally groundbreaking partner in taking advantage of social and healthcare data? Which unique strengths does Finland have in order to compete in the global health and wellbeing market or entice multinational firms into investing and locating themselves in Finland?

In order to answer these big questions, we must conduct an effective dialogue that fosters understanding and trust with business and cutting edge research institutions. The ability of businesses to succeed in the open, global market that is based on competition is fundamental for society as a whole to succeed.

We need a research and business ecosystem with plenty of know-how and understanding of data’s significance and quality, and which can turn it towards fulfilling unmet needs. Before all, this ability must be put into action – just being an expert and talking about it is not enough.

Allowing access to the SOTE-related data also leads to the expectation that new businesses and jobs will be created in Finland. The public sector must therefore facilitate the private sector’s ability to fulfill its business-related aims.

The balancing act between public and private interests will not disappear; in the modern world, you have to learn how to live with it.

There are problems and risks involved, of course, but allowing them to overshadow the project’s concrete progression means the whole subject can become bogged down. What might happen in that case, is that the world continues advancing while Finland’s possibility of being the health and wellbeing industry’s forerunner remains a dream.

In any case, what is clear is that we must demonstrate that we can overcome the risks involved in utilizing the SOTE data. Wouldn’t it be nice, however, if the development of the data access could be done through enthusiastic collaboration, which is the best atmosphere for innovation?

By Pekka Kahri, Director Information services at National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL)

Pekka Kahri (Twitter: @kahripe) is the Director of Information Services at the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and participated in the event Access to Health Data at the Amcham offices recently. The event’s aim was for those implementing the practicalities of accessing health data to hear from the business community what was needed. The dialogue continues. Reposted with permission, read the original in Finnish by clicking here.