By Reg Joseph, CEO of Health Cities
Health care in Canada is in crisis. The system has challenges with capacity, equity, access, and timeliness of patient care. And while the federal government has recently committed to additional funding, merely shoveling more money into the system will not solve its underlying issues. As Andre Picard pointed out in his recent Globe and Mail article, it’s all about money and never about the necessary changes to get “medicare back on track.”
Instead, innovative solutions and technologies are needed to drive transformational change in our healthcare system.
Innovation is often born in times of crisis. For example, the pandemic catalyzed the uptake of virtual care tools to ensure continued access to health care when clinics were closed. Now part of our daily lives, virtual care has transformed one area of health care delivery.
However, the question remains: how do we build on micro-level transformations to bring innovation into the broader system, which historically has resisted change?
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Here in Alberta, we see many examples of innovation in action, including our thriving health technology sector that is developing world-class solutions to healthcare challenges. Distressingly, these home-grown technology innovations, which are embraced beyond our borders, are rarely adopted in our own health systems.
Failing to capitalize on these innovations is an enormous loss for Alberta. We lose out on public investments made in research and economic growth for the province, and when companies don’t see their technologies adopted and choose to leave the province, we lose the tax base, the job growth, and the talent from those companies. But most importantly, we lose out on healthcare innovations resulting from the uptake of new technologies, preventing them from reaching Albertans who need them most.
Alberta has many unique assets to help power healthcare transformation, including our provincially integrated health authority; our comprehensive, high-quality health data; and our growing and investable health technology sector.
However, to fully unlock the potential and opportunity innovation presents for healthcare delivery, Alberta needs to take the following three key steps.
First, Alberta must create intake pathways that connect companies with opportunities to test, validate, and scale within and across Alberta’s health system.
The province needs to foster the development and subsequent commercialization of healthcare solutions in priority areas such as primary care, long-term care, and Indigenous care. But right now, our process for health system procurement is glacially slow, making it extremely difficult for new technology to penetrate domestic markets.
Second, Alberta needs to create environments for “safe data” that will preserve privacy while providing access for those in academia and industry who are working together to co-develop novel approaches and solutions to health challenges.
Alberta has a gold mine of health data that begs to be used and shared, both within Alberta and between other provinces, to help power healthcare transformation. If we combine our assets with powerful tools like synthetic data and data sharing, home-grown solutions can be used to solve health challenges nationally and globally, allowing these companies to scale to other markets.
Thirdly, Alberta needs bold leadership from all quarters to guide innovation in Alberta’s health system. A collaborative framework that encompasses leadership from government and policy partners, health care organizations (including primary care networks and home care organizations), and Alberta’s business sector would de-risk opportunities to effectively test, try and scale innovative approaches and technologies here in Alberta first.
Alberta has no shortage of success stories, with numerous companies bringing their healthcare innovations to market. By creating commercialization and intake pathways, leveraging our wealth of data, and working collaboratively with partners, we can position our companies to win in Canadian and global markets. When we support our innovators, we create a better healthcare system for Albertans.
Reg Joseph is the CEO of Health Cities and a contributor to the Business Council of Alberta. This opinion is part of a series by BCA called Missions & Moonshots.