Get to know the Health Informatics People: Professor Sabine Koch

In this series of posts, you’ll get to know more about some of the people who are involved in the Global Master’s Programme in Health Informatics at Karolinska Institutet in addition to having their own perspectives on the programme and even answers to some of the common questions that students usually ask.

We will start with Professor Sabine Koch who is the Health Informatics Programme Director at KI.

Sabine Koch’s Resume

1.      Why did you pick the field of Health Informatics?

After finishing high school, I did an apprenticeship in IT and Economics. I then wanted to get more education in the field of Informatics. Economics would have been a choice, but I chose Medical/Health Informatics because I saw a lot of potential in this field and I liked the combination of structure and humanity. Another interesting aspect of the field of Health Informatics is the broadness of the field which provides lots of options.


2.    How would you describe your background? 

I think it’s quite a unique mixture of technical and healthcare backgrounds. It’s more leaning towards technical, but I also gained much knowledge about theoretical medicine.


3.    As a person with more technical background, what did you do to be able to understand more about healthcare?

Of course the education helped me, but also projects that I worked on (I always worked interdisciplinary) with many healthcare professionals in many medical fields.


4.    What were the major projects that you were involved in? 

I worked a lot in the field of Dental Informatics when I started my research and I lead some European projects in the same field. I then worked with projects related to homecare of older persons, stroke and cancer research in Sweden.


5.    What do you think the Master’s Programme in Health Informatics adds to both students and healthcare?

What it definitely adds to students is learning how to work interdisciplinary, understand more about both the Heathcare and Technical fields and since this is an international programme so they gain more insight on the different healthcare systems which have a huge impact on how you should form Information Technology to support healthcare.

As for healthcare, I think IT is one of the main drivers of modern healthcare, so students and graduates are the professionals that healthcare needs now and in the future all over the world.

Being an international programme and a relatively young field, students and graduates will spread all over the world, building their own networks of professions that will be needed more and more in the future.


6.    How is the programme divided between Karolinska Institutet and Stockholm University (DSV)?

According to the program syllabus, it’s approximately 60% KI, 40 % SU. But there’s a whole semester where the students would have “elective courses” which the students can freely pick from either universities.

Furthermore we organize a number of study visits and guest lectures from clinics and industry in different courses.


7.    Some students worry about the fact that the Global Master’s Programme in Health Informatics at KI might concentrate a lot on Swedish healthcare systems. How do you manage to make it a real global programme?

By involving a lot of our experts at KI in Medical Management, Health Policies, Public Health and Global Health in the programme who also happen to be from different parts of the world.


8.    How do you see the future of the Health Informatics programme at KI?

Quite bright! We see an increasing interest in the programme from year to year and its interdisciplinary character makes it special for both students and teachers. We are very much student-centered here and have close contact with our students. Together we discuss changes and work on continuous improvement of the programme based on students’ feedback..

On the other hand, each year we different amounts of students with different backgrounds (healthcare and technical ones) and the mixture varies a lot each year, which makes it very challenging and at the same time interesting. So, we try to adapt as much as possible to the student groups that we have each year.

We are also working on more international collaboration with more programmes like ours. One of the planned collaborations for example is with International Partnership of Health Informatics Education


9.    What are the challenges that you see related to the use of ICT in healthcare?

Healthcare is a very complex system. A single business owner who for example owns all the information doesn’t exist in healthcare. So, there’s a lot of collaboration between different clinical instances, patients and decision makers. Healthcare is also driven by political systems which of course has an impact on things such as data security legislation. There are lots of factors that you have to take into account when building the IT infrastructure and of course these differ from one country to another which makes it difficult to implement some new technologies. Other aspects such as change management and the impact on workforce also have to be considered. That’s why I mentioned that it’s a very complex system.


10.    As a board member of IMIA (International Medical Informatics Association), how do you see the differences and similarities in the field of informatics between Sweden and other parts of the world?

In the Nordic countries, there is a high IT-literacy among the population, so people are used to using and not afraid of new technologies. Particularly in Sweden, the average population thinks that healthcare lags much behind when it comes to the usage of IT. There is a more open data security policy which makes it possible to build up clinical registries which are connected with the personal identification numbers very early compared to other countries. Also, the reimbursement in Sweden is different compared to for example the US, where patients in Sweden don’t have to directly pay for the services. Whereas in the US, money is a driving force, so the patients who can pay perhaps get more services than others.

As for similarities, I think in many countries we have the same problems related to for example integration between different data sources. In developing countries, there are more specific problems related to technical infrastructure (e.g. networks). We also often talk about the Digital Divide which has many times been associated with Low and Middle Income Countries lack of resources. However, even in countries where resources are available we are far from having achieved the goals in form of higher patient safety and quality of care at lower cost that everybody dreams of. So, still lots to do in this expanding and challenging field!

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