Digitalization facilitates cross-cultural encounters in health care


Aalto University researchers and students develop a new app for cross-cultural education targeted for health care professionals.

Master-level computer science students Nagadivya Balasubramaniam and Dicle Ayzit have been involved as summer interns in an interesting project, led by Aalto University researchers, developing a new cross-cultural education application for health care professionals.

Multidisciplinary COPE project has previously examined what kind of skills health care professionals need in the new era of digitalization, and what is the best practice in implementing eHealth services. As a collaboration of COPE’s digitalization and multicultural work packages a new development project has emerged. Its target is to build an application for educating health care professionals to cross-cultural encounters. The project is led by postdoctoral researcher Sari Kujala and professor Marjo Kauppinen from Aalto University.

The development project started when Marjo hired students as summer interns to the Department of Computer Science. The two Master-level students, Dicle Ayzit and Nagadivya Balasubramaniam, were found from Marjo’s course, which focuses on various aspects of digitalization and software development. In the course the theme was considered from the user, business, and technical implementation points of view – and finally, effective coordination of all of these was discussed.

Coordination and project management have played an important role also in terms of the new development project. Dicle and Nagadivya have learned various technical solutions, health care practices, and deepened their knowledge in stakeholder collaboration. To begin with, the students interviewed health care professionals, and screened what kind of practical needs and challenges they have in their work with multicultural patients. Dicle and Nagadivya found interviewing as a pleasant and natural experience, partly due to their own background as foreigners in Finland. The interviews revealed that language barriers and differences in interpretation are quite common challenges in everyday health care work. Patients from different cultures may often express pain in very different ways, for example.” In this context, researchers often talk about so-called cultural pain”, explains Sari Kujala. ”Health care professionals seemed to wish more support especially for understanding multicultural diversity”, summarize Dicle and Nagadivya.

The aim of the new app is to provide information in a clear manner, but also to support one’s multicultural skills. Hence, it is not intended to replace face-to-face support and guidance, but to act as a supplementary resource alongside traditional multicultural education. At present, the application is a paper prototype and its development has so far required several meetings and rounds of interviews with the stakeholders.” Being involved in this project has included a lot of work with people from different backgrounds, and it has taught us many useful project management skills, such as scheduling”, Dicle and Nagadivya tell. The project has provided information about health care as a field and clarified the possibilities of digitalization. The next step in prototype testing will start in October 2017. ”Soon we will be able to test the digital version of the application and investigate technical details”, Dicle and Nagadivya hope.

More information about the COPE project:

Text and photo: Aija Kukkala