Building The Next Global Health and Social Innovation Centre

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Guest Blog by the Director of Innovation and Strategic Partnerships, Elliot Fung 

In a pre-budget consultation with the Ontario Ministry of Finance on Tuesday, January 6, 2018, Elliot Fung, Director of Innovation and Strategic Partnerships at the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network was given three minutes to outline a few things for the Minister of Finance on what the local health system needs for consideration for next years’ provincial budget. The following is a summary of his presentation:

In partnership with clinicians and providers, we have made incredible progress to improve the health and wellbeing of local residents. This includes:

  • Recording some of the lowest emergency department wait times in the province for the sickest patients
  • World-class cardiac care outcomes (literally the best place in the province to receive cardiac care), and
  • Among the lowest hospital mortality ratios in Canada

The reality is, we’re not little Waterloo Wellington anymore. Our health system can be a booming economic driver in the province with a rapidly expanding agri-food/health/bio-medical/social innovation sector.

Given the right support and conditions for growth, this region could rival other health and bio-med innovation centres around the globe such as the Boston bio-medical corridor whose estimated economic impact of the 1,000 plus health and bio-med companies and 50,000 plus employees tops nine billion dollars. Imagine if we could do that right here.

What if you were having hip replacement surgery and a new technology were available to the surgeon to make the procedure so accurate and precise that it literally eliminated the need for follow-up surgery, greatly improving the patient experience and outcomes?

What if you could schedule and track a personal support worker right from your phone (like Uber)? What if someone could modify an X-ray machine to eliminate the need for a thoracic CT scan, improving wait times for other patients waiting for CT scans?

Our Chief Clinical Information Officer, Dr. Mohamed Alarakhia shared that it takes an astounding 13 years for best practices in mental health and opioid prescribing to have a meaningful impact on patients. We have digitized best practices and closed this gap to a few months. And, patients benefit by getting more appropriate medications. If we can spread this across the province, we can decrease ED visits and hospital admissions everywhere, and provide better service to our patients.

What if I told you that soon, parents in Waterloo Wellington can throw away those yellow child immunization records because we are digitizing them, saving all sorts of administrative time at school boards, public health and at home.

These and many more health innovations exist and have been invented in Waterloo Wellington and through partnerships with incredible organizations like Communitech, the Accelerator Centre and the GreenHouse, a student incubator at the University of Waterloo, we are actively seeking even more of these patient centred innovations to scale across the system.

If we are to continue to attract and retain the talent we need to compete in the global health innovation economy, we need a world class health system here in our community. But we won’t get there without increased support and investment.

First, we need to bring more speciality care home to our community. Many of our residents are still travelling too far for essential care. Second, we need to continue to invest in the spread and scale of the incredible innovations coming out of Waterloo Wellington, establishing this Region as a World Class Health Innovation Ecosystem.

The last point I’ll share, although there is much more to share and much more which is needed, is the need for increased investments in home and community care to support our aging population. We have a serious personal support worker (PSW) capacity issue in our community, and it will take the entire community working together to attract and retain talent to this vital profession. We have made some incredible partnerships with organizations like Conestoga College to build an enhanced curriculum for PSWs to better prepare them for more complex patients. But there’s much more we can and should do as a community, and with your help.

Elliot Fung blog photoThank you for your continued investments in our local health system.

 

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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

Connecting Innovations in Agri-Food with the Health & Social Innovation Ecosystem

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Many innovations in health are focused on improving outcomes for patients. Recently, I had the opportunity to connect with dozens of thought leaders in the agri-food, environmental and life sciences industries through the Guelph Chamber of Commerce to hear about opportunities to do just that as well as support residents to live and stay healthy every day.

Bill Charnetski, Ontario’s Chief Health Innovation Strategist, spoke passionately about the innovation imperative and how we are leveraging innovation across government, private and not-for-profit sectors to drive better outcomes for residents while supporting local businesses, entrepreneurs and researchers.

Guelph is a city known for its innovative culture in agriculture and food science, life, biomedical and environmental research and manufacturing. The message Bill delivered is important as we look at ways to both support our local industries and create jobs while leveraging their expertise to improve the health of residents in our own communities.

argi_foodeventWe heard from thought leaders at University of Guelph who are conducting incredible research in molecular and cellular biology and how this research will positively impact patients.  I was equally inspired to learn about innovations in food science that will produce some of the healthiest whole grains, right in Guelph, offering an incredibly healthy food source for patients and residents. Integrating our innovations in the food supply sector with the health sector is important as we look forward.

Equitable access to local healthy food is also important. As a health system and a responsible partner in the broader community – if we are going to support residents to live healthy lives, we need to look at making access to healthy food much easier for all. We have local champions of food security taking on this challenge such as Community Support Connections, Meals on Wheels and More, an organization that continues to innovate to find healthier and more equitable solutions for residents.

We also have organizations creating momentum through social innovations such as the Working Centre in Kitchener, which innovates every day as they find solutions to support some of our most vulnerable residents, and St. Paul’s Greenhouse, a social impact incubator at the University of Waterloo whose students have developed many practical solutions to health problems and turned those solutions into local businesses.  And we have social impact programs at our local innovation hubs like Communitech and Innovation Guelph.

I look forward to connecting more and more innovators and growing our partnership with the Guelph Chamber of Commerce and our fellow Chamber members.

If you are interested in connecting with us or any of our innovation partners, please reach out to me at bruce.lauckner@lhins.on.ca or @brucelauckner.