OuluHealth Labs is a co-creation platform that enables cooperation between health and social care providers, research and innovation organizations, and companies. Consisting of four test bed facilities, the OuluHealth Labs provide a specialized environment and end-users’ feedback for every phase of the development of health innovations. The goal of OuluHealth Labs is to promote the introduction of new products and services to the healthcare market and to use them to enhance social and healthcare processes to promote citizens’ wellbeing.
One of the test environments that constitute OuluHealth Labs is OYS TestLab. Located in the Oulu University Hospital, it is a specialized healthcare products and services test environment that offers testers and developers an authentic hospital environment with genuine users, with premises that can replicate diverse hospital units. Companies that run tests in the TestLab also get the chance to receive feedback from real healthcare professionals.
The OYS TestLab receives proposals from a variety of companies. Testing and co-creation enquiries can reach the team via the electronic contact form for all of the OuluHealth Labs. “Companies can send us enquiries, and we have biweekly meetings to evaluate these proposals. We are also members of Nordic Proof – which is an ensemble of premium test beds in the Nordics, that have a similar form.”, explains Timo Alalääkkölä, Development Manager and Head of Testing and Innovations. “These two channels and also direct contacts to OuluHealth Labs representatives bring new cases to us.”
Having started its operations in 2016, the OYS TestLab has seen the amount of test cases change over the past years. “In 2020, there was a radical decline in the requests because everything was closed. But then in 2021, there was an increase, because there was this pocket need that was released”, Alalääkkölä explains. “In 2023, there has been more demand – we’ve had more cases, and the quality of the cases has been higher. They are not so small one-day cases, but for example 30-day trials in real operation. And their discussions are leading companies to new directions in their R&D work”.
Collaboration with business
Part of the enquiries come from Oulu-based companies, such as Monidor and Optomed. However, some of the test cases are also done with companies from other parts of the world. “Recently, we had a discussion with a company that is originally from South Asia and now operates in Western Europe, and we are evaluating the opportunity to test their product”, Alalääkkölä shares, “and they are also thinking about placing their business inside Finland, maybe even in Oulu. So that is a really good example of international collaboration in the field”.
One of the cases that was recently run with an international company was the testing for Atle®180, developed by Swedish company Njord Medtech. “That was a really good trial. It was a one-month-long trial where we tested their new device and an ergonomic way of making the patient transfer from the patient bed to the imaging device”, Alalääkkölä explains. “The feedback was really delightful from the hospital side, and the company also got good feedback on how this device would work in Finnish healthcare. That was a good example of a win-win situation, benefiting both parties – healthcare and the private company”.
Innovation Coordinator Antti Ukura also shares some other cases tested with international companies: “At the end of August we ran through a two-day test case with GlucoSet, a Norwegian company developing tools for accurate continuous blood glucose monitoring in Intensive Care Units (ICU). They were testing the usability of that system here in our facility in a replicated ICU environment”, he explains. The outcome was very positive: “They got very good feedback from our nursing professionals. The feedback we got from the company was that they were very happy about those two days, as they got very valuable information for their further R&D work”.
Key points and adapting to the future
Oulu has been gaining more visibility and recognition as a spot for health tech innovation, which is partly due to the development of the region and its stakeholders, including the OuluHealth Labs. Among the key points that make them stand out, Ukura suggests it is about the attitude and continuous collaboration: “What makes it valuable is that we do have our real professionals giving their time to give valuable feedback to companies”. Alalääkkölä agrees and adds: “I think this attitude is due to size. It is just a good fit for this kind of operation. If it were the capital of Finland, there would be many more players involved, and the size of the organization would be much bigger, and that would create more bureaucracy. I think Oulu is just perfectly sized for this close cooperation between different organizations”.
It is also a good moment for the development of innovations in the area: under the OYS2030 programme, the Oulu University Hospital is being rebuilt and aims to become the world’s smartest hospital. Ukura believes that this adds to the operations of the TestLab: “Our professionals have been having great workshops, and they have been doing this collaboration during this process, and they started to learn and understand that this kind of collaboration and co-creation is a very valuable thing for them as well.”
The lab is adjusting to the renewal of the hospital operations as well. “There have been these functionality workshops where we have designed how the future hospital is operated and how these new operations will fit the future hospital. That is something that we have done in several hundreds of workshop sessions with our professionals and those sessions have been led by our service designers”, Alalääkkölä explains. “We want to be sure that the technologies that we select for the future hospital are future-proof”.
For the near future, the plans involve providing solutions for the main challenges in the healthcare sector, as Alalääkkölä emphasizes: “We will be focusing on need-based development and need-based co-creation, as well as early phase validation of the new technologies and new solutions.We want to know the added value of new solutions in real operations”. Ukura complements with plans for eco-ethical solutions: “We want the companies who are doing their design work to go with us towards ecological and ethical solutions”, he says. “These values will be very intensively present during the upcoming years”.
The OuluHealth Labs are available for testing for companies from Finland and abroad. Interested parties can submit proposals via the contact form or by contacting the labs directly.
Text: Beatriz Rocha, Health and Life Science, BusinessOulu
Image: Antti Ukura, OYS Testlab