Across Canada the healthcare system is facing tremendous challenges. In 2016, it was the single largest budget item for every province in the country with an average of 40.1 per cent of program spending, and projected to grow as high as 47.2 per cent in 2031.[1]

The Canadian population is growing as well as aging, leading to greater numbers of complex patients and increasing costs. New medical technologies and increasing expenses of new treatments push costs higher. In parallel, consumer expectations are rising for a health system that is accessible, responsive and high quality. Provincial budgets are straining to maintain caps on health budgets, in balance with other government programs, while continuing to provide quality and safe healthcare, with better outcomes.

So how do we tackle these looming issues? The answer is not to pour more money, or conversely to just cut costs. The answer lies in how we can capitalize on the important resources and technologies that exist today.

Currently in Canada, there is a gap in the use of technology within the healthcare sector compared with other sectors of our economy. We need to leverage today’s leading-edge technologies to free up the time and enhance the skills of our researchers, clinicians and care practitioners to actually carry out the functions that matter the most.

We need to apply systems and technology to execute the tasks that are more repetitive, data-centric and automatic, freeing up valuable clinician resources. We must also better manage data generated from our investments in technology, enabling our clinicians, researchers and health planners to harvest the more accurate insights, leading to new evidence or treatments. The net effect is to stop those tasks or decision processes that would otherwise have taken time (and money) away from the absolutely critical things that save lives.

To do this, we need to fuel increased innovation through technology. And that can’t be achieved by a single organization. It takes an entire village.

Innovation made in Canada

Open ecosystems and partnerships are the key to innovation, especially in healthcare, which stretches across care providers, life sciences companies, academia, regulators, public health, social care and, ultimately, to the patient and consumer. They identify, retain and build the right talent required to create and sustain a go-to-market structure that perpetuates an innovation-infused culture.

The purpose of these collaborative environments is to provide world-class talents with access to leading technologies so businesses and research teams of any size can transform industries and identify developments that will improve lives. It is where fresh ideas are combined with the maturity of big organizations, both public and private - helping aspiring start-ups and entrepreneurs to revolutionize the status quo.

Take for instance the recently launched Innovation Boulevard, British Columbia’s first of its kind health technology accelerator, focused exclusively on the commercialization of medical technology.

Supported through a partnership with the BC Innovation Council and IBM, this collaborative cluster of health technology companies, academic researchers, and healthcare practitioners is committed to creating new and powerful solutions, through access to IBM’s cloud and cognitive technologies, to tackle some of the country’s biggest health challenges.

Health tech accelerators such as the Innovation Boulevard are an exemplar of how various sectors came together with a distinct shift in approach to drive discovery and help transform the industry.

There are pockets of innovations spurring as a result of these types of initiatives already.

Studio1Labs, one of the startups working from the IBM Innovation Space – Markham Convergence Centre in Ontario, is a strong demonstration of the benefits of these types of large-scale collaborations in Canada. Through programs offered by NSERC and the Ontario Centres of Excellence, Studio1Labs has collaborations with York University through Innovation York, University of Waterloo, SOSCIP, IBM, and Regional Innovation Centre ventureLAB to support the commercialization of a Canadian-made innovation of creating bed sheets into clinical grade patient monitors. Through using IBM Watson Analytics, Studio1Labs is able to gather and interpret data collected from bed sheet sensors to help monitor and predict the onset of clinical emergencies like Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) for babies and infants.

In Hamilton, by integrating IBM Watson Explorer’s natural language processing and analytics capabilities with Thoughtwire’s Ambiant technology, Dr. Alison Fox-Robichaud, a critical care physician from Hamilton Health Sciences, was able to develop the Hamilton Early Warning Score (HEWS), a customized electronic early warning system that tracks patients' vital signs and need of care in an effort to avoid rushing to provide emergency resuscitation. The application is currently implemented across Hamilton General Hospital and the Juravinski Hospital.

We’re also tackling cancer using IBM Watson for Oncology and fighting Parkinson’s with IBM Watson for Drug Discovery. There are multiple technologies, including cloud, cognitive, mobile and social tools that exist today to support these reinventions and scale innovation in order to reach individuals and communities – not just innovate to innovate, but to provide benefits that impact real lives.

The time to act is now.

Canada has access to the best resources and top global experts who are inventing new ways to solve the world’s biggest problems. But to tackle some of our greatest healthcare challenges, we need to quickly adopt new innovative solutions at a larger scale in Canada through strategic collaborations within the diverse range of stakeholders across the health industry. 

If there are new tools out there, let's use them. Let's leverage the 8.4 billion ‘connected things’ and associated health apps expected to exist by the end of this year.[2] Let’s demand and push ourselves harder, especially in a generation where so many things are now accessible at our fingertips.

Our healthcare system absolutely depends on our copious amounts of skills and technology – to see what’s possible today and to lay the foundation for future opportunities. 

About the Author

Nathalie Le Prohon is Vice President, Healthcare Industry, IBM Canada

Footnotes

[1] The Sustainability of Health Care Spending in Canada 2017, 2017. http://bit.ly/2mkLqSQ

[2] Gartner Says 8.4 Billion Connected "Things" Will Be in Use in 2017, Up 31 Percent From 2016, 2017. http://gtnr.it/2l3tOOU