27.8. 2014 Kuukauden kasvo

Janne Lahtiranta: Mediators to help in the everyday life of digital orphans

In the wake of other lines of business, electronic health and well-being services are turning into self service. Janne Lahtiranta defended his doctoral dissertation in June and knows the development costs of the health and well-being sector inside out. He proposes that the sector should introduce mediators who would secure access to electronic services for everyone, regardless of their ICT skills, age and values.

Published in June, Janne Lahtiranta’s doctoral dissertation puts “digital orphans” to the centre of the electronic health and well-being services. Dr Lahtiranta uses the term to describe persons who do not want to or are unable to use electronic services that require ICT skills.

“The values and attitudes of the citizens must be respected. Hence, they have to be given the right and opportunity to refuse to use the electronic services based on new technology. In the future, electronic services are unlikely to cover the whole population, so a bridge has to be built between the services and the people who remain outside their sphere.”

As one possible solution, Dr Lahtiranta proposes the use of mediators. A mediator is a person appointed by the customers who bundles up the required electronic services and uses them as per the customer’s needs. At present, a major problem is the legislation, which protects individuals but largely prevents the use of mediators especially in health care services.

“The most important thing is that the citizens will get help in their everyday life, depending on their situation. The mediator has to work for the citizens, not the service providers, regardless of the individual citizen’s values, attitudes and skills in using electronic health and well-being services.”

The lack of skills is often thought to be a problem for the elderly and people who are not comfortable with using technology. In his study, Janne Lahtiranta has identified also other target groups that can be considered “digital orphans”.

“Alongside the elderly, we may in the future see citizens who will simply refuse to use electronic services. In addition, people who have good ICT skills at work do not always keep actively updating their skills after they retire on pension. At the high end of the age group, the use of technology decreases naturally. The mediators’ tasks may also include to support maintaining ICT skills and develop the health reading skills of the citizens, which will be needed more and more, as the health information provided in electronic format increases.”

Comprehension technologies help mediators

Dr Lahtiranta has participated in a number of projects in the field implemented in the University of Turku and Turku Science Park Ltd. Unlike general data mining, the Louhi project, which was funded by Tekes and ended in 2008, focused on free-form patient record texts. Data mining and examining outside structured data helped to understand the background of the care provided. It opened up the reasons and human factors, because of which some people with the same diagnosis need different care than others. At the same time, it was possible to identify problems in the resourcing of the care.

After the completion of the Louhi project, the acclaimed IKITIK consortium, based in Turku, started its operations. IKITIK united the local universities and health care companies, targeting at better health care services, for example by helping to form an overall picture more quickly in an acute care situation.

“As the mediators’ task is to interpret the professional jargon and methods of operation to the citizens, their work can be facilitated by using different comprehension technologies, which are developed by the IKITIK consortium. That is a reality especially now that cross-border health care is gaining a foothold. I hope that the work for health and well-being technology in Turku, which progressed favourably during the Centre of Excellence programme that ended in 2013, will continue in the future, despite the scarce resources”, Dr Lahtiranta says.

Research and practical work

Janne Lahtiranta was born in Noormarkku, but moved to Pori already as a child. He completed his matriculation examination in Kuninkaanhaan lukio upper secondary school, which was closed down in 2009. He started information technology studies in the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences of the University of Turku in 1996.

“As was common in those days, I started working after a couple of years of studying. After occasional tech support jobs and small consultant firms, I went to work at Wallac, which was my first real job in the field. I worked there for nearly two years as an information system designer and then changed to a company I founded with my fellow student. I worked there for some time and then went to pursue an academic career.”

In 2005, Dr Lahtiranta started as a part-time manager of health and well-being technology in Turku Science Park Ltd and last spring he returned to the university.

“I’ve been a full-time employee at the university only from the beginning of the year. It has always been important to me to stay in touch with my field of study. For me, it works best so that half of the week I do research and the other half is practical work. By using a different method, I would surely have finished my doctoral thesis faster, but its relevance would have suffered.”

Exercising has been Dr Lahtiranta’s passion since youth. Active exercising takes up a large share of his spare time.

“Somehow I feel that I should practice what I preach. My children see to it that daddy gets up early enough to go to the gym at least every other day.”

Janne Lahtiranta

  • Born in Noormarkku in 1974
  • matriculation examination in Kuninkaanhaan lukio upper secondary school, Pori, in 1993
  • M.Sc. 2003, Ph.D. 2014, University of Turku
  • Information system designer at Wallac 1999–2000
  • Shareholder and Technology Director in Nowire Oy 2000–2004
  • Post-graduate student and e.g. Assistant and doctoral trainee in the University of Turku 2003–2014
  • E.g. R&D Manager and Sector Manager in Turku Science Park Ltd 2005–2013
  • Works currently as researcher doctor in the University of Turku
  • Lives in Lieto, married with two small children