The unfortunate barrier to health innovation: scale and adoption

Medicine doctor and stethoscope in hand touching icon medical network connection with modern virtual screen interface, medical technology network conceptGuest Blog by the Director of Innovation and Strategic Partnerships, Elliot Fung 

After investing six months of time, resources and effort chasing a relatively large investment and not being successful, the founder and CEO of a start-up turned to me and said, “You realize that 51 companies have started and died in the Valley in the time we’ve been wasting trying to do this, right?”

His words didn’t shock me, but stuck with me. The large amount of time it takes us to adopt innovative solutions and change antiquated systems and processes by chasing new dollars instead of re-purposing the dollars we already have isn’t helping anyone – industry partners, health providers, clinicians – and most importantly, patients.

So there’s no misinterpretation, we shouldn’t rush in to things and innovate for the sake of calling ourselves innovators. I believe that we need to be thoughtful, careful and deliberate when we are introducing a new technology or process into the health care system. After all, it can affect real people, often vulnerable, sick people. As a result it carries a higher degree of risk.

Yet, if we are truly committed to improving patient outcomes and freeing up vital clinical capacity, the entire health system should come together to collaborate and support each other. We need to work together to manage risk and adopt new initiatives. Patients today have every right to expect that their health system is doing everything it can possibly do to improve their experience and outcomes.

What happens when we don’t scale and adopt innovative health solutions? Our industry partners, including many local start-ups, leave for greener pastures. They go south of the border or overseas to places that are more willing to adopt innovative health technologies and to health systems with lucrative incentives.

And we stay stuck in a place where health providers find it difficult to accommodate the ever-growing and increasingly complex patient populations coming through their doors. Clinicians continue to spend time doing things they shouldn’t have to do instead of direct patient care. Most importantly, patients wait longer for procedures, experience poorer health outcomes, and get overwhelmed by an overly complex and antiquated system that relies on old technology and processes.

We are not short on ideas. We are short on time, or rather we spend too much time not taking advantage of the incredible health innovation ecosystem we have right in our backyard. Imagine for a moment that we had hundreds of incredibly advanced health technologies at our disposal. What would they be? What could they do for you?

What if you are having hip replacement surgery and a new technology was available to the surgeon to make the procedure so accurate and precise that it literally eliminated the need for follow-up surgery?

Imagine how amazing it would be if someone could modify an X‑ray machine to take high-quality images that would eliminate the need for a thoracic CT scan, making for a better patient experience and reducing wait times for a procedure.

What if someone invented a smart mattress that could make regular adjustments to eliminate the development of bedsores? What if you could schedule and track a personal support worker right from your phone, like Uber? Wouldn’t it be incredible if we had an app, backed by some powerful data that could monitor and predict the mental health and resilience of health care workers, to ensure they are able to best care for their patients?

These are some pretty amazing ideas. Actually, what is equally amazing is that each one of these ideas exists. Companies in Waterloo, working on creative and innovative solutions, have been trying to penetrate our local health system; however, all have experienced barriers of some sort when they try to scale and adopt the solutions.

We owe it to our patients, our hard-working clinicians, the local economy, our taxpayers, future generations, and for the long-term sustainability of our health system, to make it better for everyone. That means jumping to the next curve and moving whatever barriers are in front of us, and taking the bold step to establish Waterloo Wellington as a globally recognized health and social innovation leader.

Elliot Fung blog photo


Elliot Fung is Director of Innovation and Strategic Partnerships at the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network. Follow him on Twitter at @elliotgfung