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Case Pharmaceutical Information Centre

Digia helps the Pharmaceutical Information Centre develop better data products with Power BI

The Pharmaceutical Information Centre, a long-established provider of pharmaceutical information services, was in search of an insightful partner to implement their new data product that would utilise public data sources. Digia’s analytics team had the experts to help them develop a forward-looking data product to monitor the medication of chronic diseases in Finland.


The Pharmaceutical Information Centre is best known for its Pharmaca Fennica services, which include online services, a mobile app and a book that has been continuously updated since the 1970s. In addition to this, the company offers a wide variety of other pharmaceutical information services and specialises in technology and expert services that support knowledge-based management.

The Pharmaceutical Information Centre consists of three divisions, one of which is the knowledge-based management unit led by Head of Analytics Mikko Polvi. Polvi and his team offer customers diverse and constantly developing data products based on data from the Pharmaceutical Information Centre and its stakeholders.

In spring 2020, the company decided it wanted to further develop its data products by utilising public information sources such as Kela’s medicine reimbursement statistics and the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare’s Register of Primary Health Care Visits.

“We were already aware of the available public data and had a clear vision of how we wanted to use it to develop data products that our customers would find useful. What we were missing were the people with the necessary insight to build a product based on our vision,” Mikko Polvi explains.

What we did

  • developed a data product that utilises public data to monitor the medication of chronic diseases in Finland

What we used

After seeing the first version, the different end customer user groups started to see its potential, which created a sort of self-sustaining development cycle. Digia’s team implemented all the suggestions quickly and creatively, so the first products to be ready for sale were out of the door relatively fast.

Mikko Polvi, Head of Analytics, Pharmaceutical Information Centre

From concept to product development – Digia’s team was chosen to implement the visual elements of the data product

The technical facilities needed by the data product were already in place when the Pharmaceutical Information Centre started looking for a developer. The relevant data was available in the company’s data warehouse, which the chosen partner would be given access to.

What was needed was a team of experts who could combine and visualise the data. The partner needed to be insightful, capable of problem solving and possess a high degree of expertise with Power BI. Digia was already known to be an operator with this skillset, and a common chord was struck quickly when Digia’s team introduced themselves, which made the choice of partner an easy one.

The final product offers information about real-life use of pharmaceuticals in disease treatment

The Real-World Insights product, which is being developed by Digia’s team in collaboration with the Pharmaceutical Information Centre and its customers, is a visual report that combines a number of different data sources and is produced using Microsoft Power BI. The Pharmaceutical Information Centre offers the product to customers on an annual license.

The product is based on the data produced by the company itself and its stakeholders, which has been complemented with data collected from public sources. The final product the customer receives consists of clear and regularly updated reports on subjects like the sales of different pharmaceutical products nationally and by region.

In the first stage, the product was developed to report on the sales and use of two pharmaceutical products used to treat two conditions that have been classified as chronic diseases in Finland. The number of tracked diseases was later expanded to five. Current plans include further expanding the product to track other diseases as well, but the most important aspect of development is to enlarge the existing data set by including new data sources.

Agile product development leaves room for ideas and creativity

Early in the collaboration, the Pharmaceutical Information Centre and Digia’s team, together with two different end customers, developed separate reports that visualised data regarding the medication of different chronic diseases. At the same time, a replicable base that could be used to develop new reports and further develop existing ones was built.

Agile development principles were applied to the product development process. Mikko Polvi from the Pharmaceutical Information Centre acted as the product owner, and representatives from the end customer companies formed the user groups.

Polvi explains that, at the beginning, they only had a top-level understanding of what they wanted the product to be, so the decision was made to initially build a functional framework and leave the product development team and user groups space to shape the final product from there.

The first products to be ready for sale were created in the space of a few months, and product development has continued uninterrupted since then.

“Digia’s team was able to build the basic elements we had initially specified for the product very quickly. After seeing the first version, the end customers’ different user groups started to see its potential, which created a sort of self-sustaining development cycle. Digia’s team implemented all the suggestions quickly and creatively, so the first products to be ready for sale were out of the door relatively fast,” Polvi recounts.

The Pharmaceutical Information Centre is a forerunner in utilising public data sources

Utilising public data sources in knowledge-based management is a relatively new phenomenon. The general attitude in the health care industry towards sharing and utilising data has become more positive in recent years, and with the Act on the Secondary Use of Social and Health Data in 2019, health care data has also become openly available.

This has given the Pharmaceutical Information Centre the prerequisites needed to create richer and more versatile data products. Mikko Polvi explains that this has only recently become possible and that Finland is a global forerunner in data analytics, advanced analytics and knowledge-based management.

“This wouldn’t have been possible without the changes in attitude and law, along with the real technical actions that organisations like the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare and Kela have taken to improve the availability of data. There is currently a debate going on in Europe about unifying data practices in the health care industry, and Finland has the opportunity to be a real trailblazer,” Polvi says.

However, secondary use of public data is not as straightforward as the use of data that you have had a chance to format for the purpose. Because the purpose of secondary data use is to find new ways of utilising the data that were not considered at the data specification stage, it demands a clear business vision and top data processing and visualisation skills.

The latter of these two skills is what the Pharmaceutical Information Centre is looking for in their partner, and Digia’s analytics team has exceeded their expectations.

“I have to give praise to Digia’s team for their excellent problem-solving skills and willingness to take on new challenges. Also remarkable is the fact that, even though there have been changes to the team during our collaboration, it hasn’t had even the slightest negative impact on the quality of their work or their efficiency,” Polvi says.

We are still only scratching the surface of what can be done with data

Due to the industry it operates in and its own history, the Pharmaceutical Information Centre is excellently equipped to be a forerunner in data products. The health care industry is exceptional in that it stores an enormous amount of data, and people in Finland and other Nordic countries are generally open to its secondary use.

At the same time, various advanced analytics technologies and skills are improving quickly. This is why Mikko Polvi believes that, when it comes to knowledge-based management and data utilisation, we are currently at the beginning of a very interesting journey.

The leading lights on this journey will be long-term goals for value-based health care and personal medication.

“Knowledge-based management and secondary use of public data are extremely interesting developments, and we’ve only scratched the surface so far. Data is going to have a critical role in the development of health care and medication, because more data will allow us to offer patients ever more personalised and effective care,” Polvi says.

It is still difficult to predict the practical applications we will see in the future.

“It’s in the nature of utilising data that it only reveals its full potential through experimentation, which means that it’s impossible to guess all the applications it will have in the future. In Digia, we have found an excellent partner for our own journey,” Polvi concludes.