Canada’s Health Innovation Opportunity

April 27/16
Patti Ryan

Government is not known for being innovative or customer service oriented.  Maybe this is why the concepts of Health Innovation and Patient-Centred care seem intangible.  Since government manages most of our health services, achieving patient-centred care becomes, by default, the job of government and/or the public servants who work for government.

In Canada, we bask in the safety and security of our universal health care system. We hold it up high as a one of the defining features of our great nation, and it is.  Our publicly funded system provides outstanding care for our citizens but it operates inside a tangled web of provincial oversight restricted by federal legislation.  Innovation is not a natural predisposition.

Take the recent announcement by the Government of Canada to invest $3.5 million for ImmunizeCA, an “innovative mobile app” that helps Canadians keep their immunization information close at hand. Over the last 2 years 140,000 people have downloaded the app, developed by researchers at the University of Ottawa, to support the manual input of your immunization information.  Phase 2 will take 3 years, implementing  $3.5 million.

A product is needed, no argument here.

Healthcare consumers should be able to digitally access their health information at every point of contact they have with the system and immunization records are a critical component of an individual’s personal health record.

But why do we have to wait 3 years and spend $3.5 million to have researchers commercialize a mobile app to let me manually input my health information? With more and more individuals accessing immunizations from pharmacy why can’t we connect directly to our pharmacy to manage our immunizations?  I believe there is an app for that already and it’s free.  Connect the pharmacies to provincial immunization records and voila, consumers have meaningful access to their records.

Dan Breznitz, the Munk Chair of Innovative Studies wrote a thoughtful article in the Globe this weekend highlighting the challenges for Canada to commercialize ideas.  Mr. Breznitz focused comments on Fintech (innovations to the Canadian Financial sector) but we can easily see the same challenges in Canada’s publicly funded health system.

As our government ponders Canada’s first Innovation Agenda “propelled by its creative and entrepreneurial citizens; its leading science and technology; its excellent innovation infrastructure; and its globally competitive companies.”

Let’s look closely at the opportunity for our regulators to work with the private sector on creating efficiencies and effective solutions for our publicly funded and regulated services.  Publicly funded healthcare services could benefit from private solutions to both create efficiencies in our system and improve the patient (customer) experience and outcomes.

Government has a critical role in regulating the public services that we hold dear and pay for through our hard earned tax dollars but the government itself, is not innovative.  Our private sector partners and emerging entrepreneurs are nimble and creative, let them thrive.  Government needs to provide clear rules, reduce the barriers and increase the penalties for those who don’t play fair … then stand back.