Published: 01-12-2021 16:20 | Updated: 01-12-2021 16:29

Meet Gunnar Hartvigsen

Gunnar Hartvigsen
Gunnar Hartvigsen


Hello and welcome Gunnar Hartvigsen, PhD, professor at the University of Tromsø – The Arctic University of Norway (UiT), Faculty of Science and Technology, Department of Computer Science, and Head of the Health Informatics and -Technology group (HIT).

Welcome to HIC

You have chosen to spend your sabbatical year at the Health Informatics Centre (HIC) at LIME and we are happy to welcome you to Karolinska Institutet. How come that you chose HIC?

map with pins for GH's sabbaticals

- There are several reasons that I ended up in Stockholm. I have spent my previous sabbaticals in Enschede (NL), Munich (D), Davis (CA, USA), and Valencia (E). This time, I wanted to stay closer to Tromsø, both due to family reasons and the ongoing pandemic. The driving distance from Tromsø to Stockholm is 1560 km, which is like the driving distance from Stockholm to Munich. Thus, I’m still not directly in my neighborhood. Pre-Covid, SAS had direct flights from Stockholm to Tromsø. According to SAS, they will soon restart this flight, which makes it easy to travel to Stockholm.

- Another reason was that Karolinska was not unknown to me. I have known Sabine Koch for many years. I was also the co-supervisor of David Issom when he did his MSc at KI in 2015. I 2016, David published the results of his thesis together with his supervisors, i.e., Sabine, Stefano Bonacina, Christian Lovis from Geneve and myself. Thus, I have already published papers together with people at HIC.

- When in Stockholm, I hope to learn more about the research that you are doing at HIC at KI in general, and hopefully also initiate a new project.

- I also wanted to learn more about the successful master program in health informatics you are teaching. For many years, I was teaching an international MSc program in telemedicine and e-health at UiT (University of Tromsø). The program was unfortunately terminated when the telemedicine centre in Tromsø was closed in 2015. Today, we offer a 5-year integrated MSc program (sivilingeniør) in health technology. Next year, we start a new experienced-based MSc in digital healthcare. The latter will be organized from our campus Helgeland, and is a collaboration between UiT, Helgelandssykehuset and the municipalities in that region. Earlier this year, I got NOK 6,3 million from DiKu in Norway to start this program.

- I must also admit that my wife has had a lot of influence of where I spent my sabbaticals. Since we both enjoy being in Stockholm and have visited Stockholm many times over the last four decades, it was an obvious choice.

Hopes and expectations

What are your hopes and expectations for this year with us?

- As I said, I hope to learn about what is going on at HIC. Both research and education. Hopefully, we will be able to define a common research project. It is always exiting to learn to know a new institution and research group.

- I participated in a LIME Day meeting and learned of all your initiatives for career promotion and PhD support. Over the last 25 years, I have organized many career seminars at Norwegian universities and research institutions. When I was on sabbatical at UPV, Valencia, I organized several seminars for PhD students and faculty/staff members. If this is of interest, I’m happy to do the same for HIC. As part of the European COST project EUGAIN, I’m currently working on a mentoring and career program for women in computer science and informatics.

Special interests within the field of health informatics

My research interests and current projects include various aspects of telemedicine and health informatics, including:

  • Self-help systems for people with diabetes: The focus has been on different tools for both diabetes type 1 and 2. In 2009, we published a diabetes diary, “Diabetesdagboka”, that had been developed in close collaboration with people with diabetes type 2. The diary has been available on both iOS and Android. We also developed a smartwatch version. A common denominator for this research has been close contact with patients. The diary has been used in several clinical trials. Most of the work has been done at the University Hospital of North Norway.
  • Motivational mechanisms in e-health: Together with a professor from IIT, Chicago, I started a project where the goal is to study which techniques and mechanisms that motivate patients with NCDs to comply to their treatment regime.  The project is currently run by three of my former PhD students, now colleagues.
  • Electronic disease surveillance: In this project we try to detect the spread of contagious diseases before people know that that they are infected. With the use of continuously monitored health data from people with diabetes type 1, we can identify an infection. This project is done together with colleagues at Columbia University and Johns Hopkins University.
  • Improved physical activity for people with intellectual disability: In the project, we use gamification techniques and different m-health apps to try to increase the level of physical activity among people with intellectual disabilities. The project is organized by the University Hospital of North Norway. Partners are from universities in Norway (NTNU and UiA), Spain (Valencia) and Italy (Pisa).
  • Large-scale infrastructure for monitoring of a large cohort: This project is part “Population studies in the north”, of a large strategic project at the University of Tromsø. The project is connected to the Tromsø Study, which is an ongoing population study in Tromsø that started in 1974. In our part of the project, we try to develop a digital twin-based infrastructure where the goal is both to be able to detect changes in a person health based on all kinds of data, e.g., digital dust, and record data for late study in the Tromsø Study.
  • One of our latest projects is the EU-funded WARIFA project that aims to define a personalized early risk prediction model that will be used to support individual preventive measures as well as early intervention. It is believed that early risk prediction using artificial intelligence can empower citizens to adopt healthier habits and a better lifestyle. The proposed technology can help empower both citizens and patients. The digital tool will mainly focus on three scenarios: the fight against skin cancer, the late complications of diabetes mellitus and the main lifestyle risk factors involved in noncommunicable diseases.

Being a Norwegian

Preconceived notions about Norwegians are that you love hiking and other outdoor activities. Is this accurate when it comes to you?

- If you live in Tromsø, surrounded by nature and mountains of all shapes, you must take advantages of the surroundings. This means hiking in the mountains and of course skiing. In the summertime, I also like to drive around in our VW Beetle Cabriolet, preferably in a warmer location than Tromsø.

Is it true that all people from Norway are wearing lusekofte and selbuvotter? 

- I was the owner of a “lusekofte” when I was a student many years ago. After that, I changed to “islender”, which is a more convenient jersey. I bought my current one in Reykjavik, although the name has nothing to do with the country Island. I wanted to spend three months of my last sabbatical in Reykjavik, but it turned out to be impossible to find an affordable apartment in Reykjavik due to the extreme number of wealthy Asian tourists.  

- I’m also the owner of a pair of “selbuvotter”, which I occasionally use in the wintertime. But I don’t think many Norwegians today have “selbuvotter”. In Tromsø, you can only buy “lusekofte” and “selbuvotter” in the tourist gift shops that no locals visit. I’m not sure that my sons know these terms.

Gunnar at LIME

If you want to meet Gunnar Hartvigsen in person

You can find Gunnar in one of the offices belonging to HIC, presumedly in the office of Sabine Koch (room 4303) or in one of the other offices in the HIC wing where there is an unused workplace.