Jukka Jokinen, Professor of practice in statistics, wants to curb health data chaos

At the beginning of November 2021, Jukka Jokinen, a leading researcher at the Information Services unit at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), started a 5-year posting as a part-time professor of practice at the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Helsinki.

The past couple of years have been especially busy for Jukka Jokinen. His decades of experience in vaccine research became extremely important during the pandemic. Jokinen has also been in charge of the preparation of a EU-level and a national covid passport, and is now pondering how to make vaccine and disease data available as the basis for decision-making in a timely manner.

Summer traineeship started career

While a student of mathematics and statistics, Jokinen started a traineeship at the National Public Health Institute in 1996, and since then all his work duties have related to national health data. He worked as a statistician in large vaccine studies and was responsible for analyses and partially also for data-management.

– It was inspiring to notice, while still studying, how the things I'd learned were immediately necessary in practice, and I got to apply the things I'd learned, says Jokinen.

After the fusion of the National Public Health Institute and Stakes in 2009, the current Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) was formed, and Jokinen has worked in management posts in different parts of the organisation. He has e.g. held the post as manager of the Vaccine Research Unit, the Impact Assessment Unit, and the Public Health Evaluation and Projection Unit.

Jokinen completed his doctoral dissertation,while on-the-job, in 2006. The title was joint regression and association models for repeated categorical responses. In 2011, Jokinen was appointed docent of biometry at the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.  At the beginning of November 2021, the 5-year post of professor of practice started, taking 20% of his workday.

Jokinen's contacts with academia have remained close thanks to his docent's position, and the units he has managed have been recruiting statistics students and thesis-writers all along. Jokinen hopes that the working-life professorship will tighten these contacts even more and promote collaboration between THL and the University of Helsinki.

Data is not equal to information

The amount of data on the health and welfare of citizens has increased exponentially, especially during the past five years.

The analytical processing of this data is ever more important, because data is not the same thing as information.

– The volumes are growing, and data is becoming more complex. There is, for example, the data gathered from the social and healthcare service systems, and there is 'MyData,' i.e. data on people's health and welfare that is gathered from e.g. various technological devices. However, data can be unstructured and useless if there are no research-based skills, methods and insights to process it, says Jokinen.

Statistician develops the utilisation of data in cooperation with experts in the fields of health and welfare.

Jokinen wants to promote the use of national social and health-related data, and wants to include top researchers from the University of Helsinki in this work. The material compiled by THL is exceptionally large, even on an international scale, and their potential is almost limitless.

Up-to-date information for decisions on Covid vaccinations

Another feature of the data revolution is that the data is increasingly up-to-date on arrival and demands strong responsiveness in processing and monitoring of quality.

Lately, Jokinen has participated in considering how to incorporate the latest data into the monitoring of vaccine effects in order to assess the benefits of the vaccines and ensure the most efficient follow-up of the safety of the vaccines.

The most up-to-date monitoring of vaccine and disease data has proved vital in the current COVID pandemic situation. It affects the whole global community and it is one of central priorities at THL at the moment.

Professor of practice in statistics

Docent Jukka Jokinen, PhD, has been invited to the part-time (20%) post of professor of practice in statistics for a term of five years, 1 November 2021–31 October 2026. The professorship is funded half by half by UH and THL so that each party stands for 10% of a full-time post.