Maria Hägglund

Director of Studies for Master of Health Informatics programme

Maria Hägglund has a clear goal as the Director of Studies for the Masters Programme in Health Informatics: bridging the gap between modern technology and what is needed in health care.

‘Together with Stockholm University, we have set up a unique programme where both worlds come together, learn from each other, and from us. Health informaticians are a missing professional group today.’

Toilet rolls?

Maria defended her PhD thesis in 2009 at Uppsala University and came to Karolinska Institutet for a Postdoc position. As an experienced researcher in the fields of IT and health care, she is very familiar with the gap between the two.

She explains: ‘A physician was holding the Personal Digital Assistant I used for designing mobile applications as part of my PhD, it was the size of a smartphone today. He said: ‘for me reading the medical record on this, would be like reading the morning newspaper through a toilet roll. It would never work.’ Nowadays, everybody is used to the size of a smartphone and this is only ten years ago!’

It demonstrates that IT is a rapidly emerging sector, whereas health care is developing slowly in comparison. Maria: ‘There are a lot of added challenges in health care, it’s usually a very political entity, it’s often changing. Plus there are a lot of rules and regulations regarding the purchasing of new systems and the procurement of new tools - all reasons why a lot of newer technologies don’t really get into the health care sector.’ Maria adds: ‘it can be quite frustrating.’

Mixed backgrounds

The aim of the Masters Programme in Health Informatics is to gain a better understanding of the specific needs of health care and the possibilities offered by IT. ‘What the unique challenges and values are, and of course the legal and ethical aspects of sharing information, the importance of usability – that is what we want our students to know when they finish.’ The programme is quite unique in that it brings students from different backgrounds together.

‘About half of the students have a technical background and the other half have a clinical background’, explains Maria. In the first semester, those with a technical background take courses in basic medical science, while the medical students learn basic computer and system sciences. ‘We want our students to be able to speak both languages when they graduate.’


Not only is the background of the students varied – they come from all over the world as well. Maria: ‘It’s a very diverse group of students, and they will go on to work in different contexts around the world after finishing the programme. What we really want to make sure is that our graduates have the right toolkit, so they can work wherever they want to. There is a focus on Sweden, because that is where we are located. But we try to have lectures with a truly international perspective.’

Apart from being the director of studies, Maria still contributes actively to IT and health care research. ‘I am working now on a project about national online services for patients, getting access to medical record data. I’ve been working with different patient groups, looking at what they need in the care process so we can make tools that are more adapted to patients.’


Profile by Maike Winters and Photography by David Humphreys.