Club Giraffe visited the New Children’s Hospital, getting to know paediatric research

Introducing research and education related to childhood diseases is easy, as their importance needs no explanation. These were Chancellor Kaarle Hämeri’s remarks at the beginning of the visit. Finnish paediatric research and education are in many ways the best in the world, and the New Children’s Hospital is an important part of the close interconnections between research, education and patient care.

A hospital for the whole of Finland

The New Children’s Hospital of the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa is a hospital for Finland as a whole. In a small country, centralising resources that require special expertise makes sense. Indeed, Finnish hospitals have long conducted well-functioning collaboration in paediatric research and education.

– Not a single patient is referred anywhere else from here,” says Pekka Lahdenne, head of department at the hospital.

In Finland, children and adolescents have the opportunity to receive good care. In Helsinki, particularly high-quality care is available, among other fields, in the treatment of rare diseases, cardiac surgery as well as the care and study of premature babies. Most patients at the hospital are under 16 years of age, but even older patients who still require monitoring are not left on their own: therapeutic relationships with the hospital may continue until graduation from upper secondary school or vocational school.

– There is quite a bustle here, as some 300–400 children and adolescents visit us daily, one-third of whom are aged under one. Of course, we also have patients staying for longer periods in the inpatient wards. All surgical operations requiring anaesthesia have been concentrated here in Meilahti, with half of the child patients due to undergo surgery coming from outside the hospital district,” Lahdenne adds.

Collaboration guarantees good care

In Finland, paediatric research and education is among the best in the world, and the New Children’s Hospital is aiming for the global top. Such high-quality operations are founded, among other things, on the results of medical research, a research-intensive approach to operations and patient experience.

Then again, paediatric education and research are not immune to fluctuating financial considerations.

– At the moment, the share of external funding in the budget of the Faculty exceeds that of public funding,” noted Kari Reijula, vice-dean of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki, when describing the significance of various funding parties and partners to medical research and education.

An extensive fundraising campaign was carried out in conjunction with the construction of the new hospital, while donations can also be made in support of the hospital’s operations, such as paediatric research and education. The Niilo Hallman professorship donated by the Foundation for Pediatric Research is the remit, for the second consecutive five-year term, of Taneli Raivio, professor of paediatrics and chief physician. 

The links connecting research, education and the hospital environment are solid. Every year, Raivio supervises several doctoral dissertations to completion, while providing instruction and supervision to 30–40 doctoral students and 120 undergraduates. Central fields of research and education include growth disorders and puberty, new rare diseases, the care of premature infants, type 1 diabetes, whose frequency of occurrence in Finland is particularly high, as well as malignant diseases and stem cell research.

– The new hospital has also garnered international recognition thanks to the extensive networks of researchers. We are one of the central parties active in the field in Northern Europe, and there is global interest in our operations,” Raivio says.

– We wish to actively communicate on our activities. Our aim is to make paediatric research and education catch the eye of both the public as well as talented junior students and researchers both in Finland and abroad.”

The hospital and its research continuously produce a great deal of data. Today, utilising that data is the principal duty of Pekka Lahdenne, specialist in paediatric rheumatology, who served as project leader during the construction of the hospital. Teams with a multidisciplinary composition are considering how to apply the data produced by the hospital’s operations for their further improvement.

Designed with the help of families

Already two years before any architects or engineers joined the project, physicians and other healthcare staff started designing the hospital from the perspective of functionality. When the planning process was initiated in 2012, considering service design and patient experience was not yet a given. Many factors were rethought: for instance, there is such a large number of monitoring beds in the emergency department that patients requiring monitoring need not be registered as inpatients for one night, as most of them get better quickly and are able to go home the next morning.

– From the start, the focus was on patients in designing the hospital. The aim was for parents to be able to stay with their children at the hospital as much as possible. Children have been involved, among other things, in designing hospital clothing and the age-specific user interfaces of the tablets available in the inpatient ward,” Lahdenne says, describing the planning of the hospital and its operations.

A number of donations were also made for the hospital’s art acquisitions. With the help of child-oriented processes and artworks placed throughout the hospital premises, the ambition is to make the hospital experience as positive as possible for children.

– Coming to a hospital is often unnerving and feels miserable, but there are many things that can be used to draw children’s attention away from the actual practice of medical care,” Lahdenne says, describing the significance of taking young patients into account.