Norrbotten County Council (Sweden)

The County of Norrbotten is Sweden’s largest county and covers about a quarter of Sweden, but the population is only about 250,000. The county has room for Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg within its boundaries. With an average population density is 2,6 inhabitants per square kilometre, Norrbotten is one of the most sparsely populated regions within the EU. This means long distances to primary care clinics and hospitals. The situation creates a demand for a healthcare system with high patient safety, availability, quality of care and productivity. Due to the long distances, the systems must also enable the care provider to deliver the same care no matter where the patient lives. The County Council of Norrbrotten (CCN) is a directly elected regional body; providing healthcare is CCN’s main task. Today CCN provides healthcare in 5 hospitals, 33 health centres and 34 dental clinics, and has 8,000 employees.

Faced with geographic challenge and a rapidly growing elderly population (the oldest in Europe) with an increasing dependence on healthcare, the development of ICT solutions within the healthcare sector takes high priority. However, these challenges have been turned into opportunities, rather than disadvantages. Norrbotten has always been and still is a hotbed for distance-spanning technologies, among which eHealth holds a strategic position.

Norrbotten has an advanced ICT structure. Nine out of ten inhabitants have access to Internet through broadband connections. Many Swedish households have a home computer, bought with a tax deduction through the Swedish home computer reform. This opportunity is available to employees of all professions. Computers and ICT are commonly used in education, and are introduced as early as pre-school. As a result, Norrbottens citizens have a high degree of ICT awareness and a willingness not only to use existing state-of-the-art technology, but to test new technologies, which provides a breeding ground for new ideas to be tested.

The large use of ICT in healthcare and medical care has enabled improved services for citizens and patients, as well as organisational and cost benefits. eHealth and telemedicine solutions make it possible to provide healthcare to everyone, anywhere, at any time. The aim is to empower patients – to make it possible for them to access their own medical records, to communicate with the healthcare system in a safe way – even from the home whenever necessary. This development is possible with interoperable ICT solutions that support involved patients and professionals with proper information through the entire healthcare process. Interaction is one key element. Distance spanning is another. Accessibility is a third.

To further develop the healthcare systems and boost regional economic growth, considerable investment is made in new ehealth projects; many of the projects concern telemedicine, other projects are about developing and testing methods and applications using wearable mobile solutions, to improve the quality of life for elderly people and allow more flexible and effective home care services in a rural environment. The region is also realising more traditional eHealth projects including both interoperability of health information systems and also interoperability of electronic health records through a common interaction platform.