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Professor of digital health care appointed in Seinäjoki

Published on 11.1.2021
Tampere University
Mark van Gils
Tampere University established a professorship in the field of digital health care. Adjunct Professor Mark van Gils, who took up the post on 1 January, was appointed as the professor who works in both Seinäjoki and Tampere.

The research included in the professorship focuses on the utilisation of data analytics and machine learning in health care, and the exploitation of health care information. The aim is also to develop new applications for both personalised and participatory health care, especially telemedicine, home care and preventive health care.

Digitalisation helps to optimise resources

“The goal is to optimise health care resources and improve the patient’s quality of life especially in certain patient groups,” says van Gils.

“With digitalisation tools, we may, for example, improve diagnostics by combining information sources and use that to link to appointment scheduling and treatment planning. For example, magnetic resonance and X-ray images, signals, and texts are interpreted and combined based on data analysis,” vanGils continues.

Van Gils and his research group are producing new scientific knowledge that supports the application of digitalisation in health care. The information is then used to aid decision-making and enable development work in regional hospitals, companies and R&D organisations. In addition, the aim is to build an international and national cooperation network to enhance development work in the field.

Health technology is a growing sector: in 2018, total exports were €2.3 billion showing an increase of 3.4% from the previous year. The digitalisation of health care and the utilisation of data analytics and machine learning methods are currently one of the key developments in health technology.

Personalised care achieved by combining data from different sources

“Data aggregation is one of the general themes in my research,” van Gils says.

“Data can be combined from different sources such as biobanks, measuring devices used at home, observations made at outpatient clinics, and hospitals. The idea is that combining information from all these sources gives a full picture of the patient and his or her background,” van Gils explains.

“When this happens, we are able to apply personalised solutions which are more efficient and will help to avoid expensive treatments when they are not optimal for the patient. Instead, we can treat the patient in a manner that is suited for his or her individual case,” van Gils says.

In particular, the development of new applications is based on the needs of patients suffering from chronic conditions, such as diabetes, dementia or heart disease. Patients can help to manage many illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes, by lifestyle choices, and motivating applications can lead to better commitment to treatment.

Van Gils is an expert in medical information technology and has researched data analytics in health care information systems. Most recently, he worked as a research professor at VTT where he also held other research posts since 1996.

Regional cooperation provides resources and know-how

The position of the professor of digital health care is part of the multidisciplinary Epanet university network of the five universities belonging to the University Consortium of Seinäjoki (UCS).

The University Association of South Ostrobothnia collects and coordinates funding, brings together actors in the region and manages the project on behalf of the partners. The partners are UCS, the city of Seinäjoki, the Hospital District of South Ostrobothnia and LähiTapiola.

“UCS currently employs 24 professors or research group leaders. Almost all the posts are funded by donations and cooperation agreements. Such a modern co-operation network not only gathers resources, but also shares valuable information and know-how in the region,” emphasises Juha Alarinta, director of UCS.

Mass analysis of patient data for disease prevention

Tampere University and the Hospital District of South Ostrobothnia have been cooperating for a long time. The professorship in digital health care will increase the cooperation opportunities.
“We are collecting a huge amount of patient data and its mass analysis will pave the way for better disease prevention and minimising the adverse effects of diseases,” says acting Medical Director Matti Kotila from the Hospital District of South Ostrobothnia.

“Today, the effectiveness of medical interventions and their evaluation play a key role in the development of specialist care. The appointment of Mark van Gils to this professorship strengthens our University’s research in digital health care. The goal is to gather sufficient critical mass for efficacy studies with Seinäjoki and Tays Central Hospital Hospital,” says Tapio Visakorpi, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Technology.

Professor Mark van Gils, mark.vangils [at]


Photograph: Jonne Renvall