Currently in the Canadian market, there is much discussion and thought being given to the theme of innovation – a theme which is viewed through the lens of developing new technologies.
This type of thinking is certainly in keeping with the premise that Canada is a nation of inventors and pioneers with tremendous capacity to lead the world in exciting new technologies. Just look at the impact our country has had technologically. The invention of the Canadarm cemented Canada’s legacy in the realm of space technology and was dramatically enhanced with the introduction of the Canadarm-2 a generation later. With both devices working in tandem operation, the workflow process received the nickname the ‘Canadian handshake’. The movie industry, particularly in the area of animation, is another domain where Canada has made considerable contributions. Finally, one must not forget Frederick Banting and Charles Best who co-discovered insulin — a feat that stopped Type 1 diabetes from being a possible death sentence for children.
For a relatively small country population-wise, Canada is filled with thinkers who have been at the forefront of groundbreaking research.
Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in The Information Technology Association of Canada’s (ITAC) Hill Day in Ottawa. This was a rewarding experience that afforded me the opportunity to meet with several key players across several federal ministries. The discussions focused on key issues such as cybersecurity and innovation, among others. My thoughts were on our healthcare delivery, and the extent to which it would be impacted by these topics. During one conversation, I explained that although Canada has been trailblazing in terms of healthcare technology, it remains difficult to sell innovation on our home turf. In fact, many homegrown entrepreneurial solutions need to be sold in markets outside of Canada first to achieve credibility and to sustain the business. As an economic discussion, this may well be warranted. But when it comes to progressing our own healthcare delivery, we may be missing some opportunities for rapid and agile progression.
Does the existing procurement model hamper the utilization of Canadian innovations? Certainly that would seem to be a natural question. The healthcare industry must continue to address concerns about procurement with a sense of urgency to accelerate the rate of change and adoption. But there is more to this conversation that needs to be explored. While Canada continues to pursue excellence in the development of new technologies, it must also include “innovative solution thinking and deployment” in the mix as well.
Innovative solution thinking is our ability to utilize technologies, either as a standalone or in combinations, to deliver a solution that fulfills a need while improving healthcare delivery. This is an area that Canada has quietly adopted. In doing so, we’ve created solutions that are innovative in their own way. Many of these projects used either existing technology or technologies that were coupled together to produce a desired outcome.
The successful implementation of a solution that leverages existing assets (and utilizes tried and tested technology) can help us address the many challenges we face today in our changing healthcare environment.
In one great example of leveraging existing digital assets, The Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Health Information (NLCHI) struggled with disparate data across the continuum of care including medication data, immunizations, lab results, diagnostic imaging and encounters. NLCHI looked to innovate by leveraging the existing investment in that technology stack to identify solutions that would provide real-time access to actionable data. It established a team of stakeholders from across the province that looked at using existing systems and assets, and integrated them together. NLCHI gained significant benefit from its existing infrastructure. Now, it can link to the rest of the health record so clinicians, nurses and pharmacists have access to both complete medication data and complete clinical data.
Other exciting examples are the programs underway in two western jurisdictions: Saskatchewan with its Citizen Health Information Program (CHIP), and Alberta with its Personal Health Portal Program (MyHealth. Alberta). Both programs are leveraging significant legacy investments by jurisdiction and federal partners in their Electronic Health Record solutions. For a fraction of the initial investments in EHR solutions, citizens are granted online access to their digital health information records, thereby setting the stage for meaningful virtual encounters with their healthcare team in the future.
This is not to say that the continuing development of emerging, disruptive technology should be overlooked. In fact, we should continue to innovate and adopt recent technologies as we strive to improve our healthcare delivery. At that same time, let’s not overlook the solutions that we implement and the implementation process that is innovative in its own right.
As we prepare for the eHealth Conference this year, it’s time to include this type of thinking in our discussions. Let us appreciate how far our healthcare system has come as we look forward to where we still must go.
This article originally appeared in the HIMCC Magazine ITAC Health Column, May 2017 issue.