Businesses like Amazon are changing game for digital health

To Dr. Louise Schaper, Amazon’s plan to start selling health-care services is a gamechanger.

“If you can afford to pay for it great, but what happens to people who can’t pay for private health care?” she asked.

At Waterloo’s latest Innovation Summit on the future of health innovation, Schaper’s keynote address emphasized the need to embrace creative and collaborative approaches to make health-care services available to everyone.

“In order for us to invent a health-care system that is truly patient centered, truly innovative, one that delivers a higher quality of care … every single health-care organization is going to have to rewrite their business plan,” said Schaper, CEO of Australasian Institute of Digital Health.

As the “fourth wave” of digital health continues, society needs to think beyond new technology and seek non-traditional routes between industry and business, alongside shaping government policy that is “pro-innovation, but also pro-patient.” Hosting a “training day” for a new electronic medical records software program for workers isn’t integration. Health-care professionals need to be part of the process from the very beginning, with an emphasis on upskilling the workforce whether it comes to front-line care or the back-end jobs supporting the delivery of care.

Hosting a “training day” for a new electronic medical records software program for workers isn’t integration, but rather health-care professionals need to be part of the process from the very beginning, with an emphasis on upskilling the workforce whether it comes to front-line care or the back-end jobs supporting the delivery of care.

COVID-19 has spurred innovation

The COVID-19 crisis has fueled innovation across businesses and industries. It’s placed unparalleled demands on modern health-care systems, with hybrid models are being widely adopted to respond to the crisis. In response, society is seeing businesses, investors, government and health-care provides collaborate in new ways, at an exponential pace. According to industry leaders, these efforts need to keep going.

“During the pandemic, we found this huge rush of funding, focus and interest on one particular topic,” said Jun Axup, chief science officer and partner at Indie Bio and a one of three panelists at the Summit. “Both public and private funding, public engagement became the focus bridge to figuring out problems we need to solve. The hope is that this translates to a focus on what’s broken and how the problems can be solved.”

Speaking from the investor’s side, Jun Axup thinks we should “absolutely take more risks” when it comes to investing in technology that might be the solution out of this pandemic.

Brian Lewis, president and CEO, Medtech Canada, added that for more innovation to happen in the area of health technology, the Canadian health-care system budgets needs to remove funding silos and mandate procurement for purchase price minimization.

“What needs to happen, is funds need to be put forward and we need to reconfigure the provincial health-care system to look at downstream value of new innovation,” said Lewis. “The system needs to evolve.”

Are we willing to take bolder risks deploying health technologies? To protect us from reverting to old ways after the pandemic, Brian Lewis says it’s important to “keep our awareness up” to allow our health-care systems change for the better.

Collaboration is the strategic response to the pandemic

While there’s still more work to do, the collaborative efforts across many industries are paying off, even if it means traveling into unfamiliar territory in usually risk-adverse environments.

“We are at a very difficult transition right now,” said Catherine Burns, executive director, Health Initiatives and Sponsored Research at the University of Waterloo.

She explains that we’re going from a system that is very solid and very risk adverse to an environment where technology has a little more risk. Burns says it becomes a question of trust: how much risk is acceptable?”

Recognizing the new Innovation Arena, located in the City of Kitchener’s Innovation District, Hamdullahpur highlighted how the space will amplify Waterloo region’s health-tech sector.

“Drawing on our strengths in health research, enabling connections between research and industry, and fostering student-driven solutions and entrepreneurship, we are uniquely positioned to lead in this exciting space,” said Feridun Hamdullahpur, Waterloo’s president and vice-chancellor.

Housing Velocity, Waterloo’s flagship entrepreneurship program, the Innovation Arena will streamline commercialization pathways for businesses, fast-track delivery of health technologies and drive Canada’s next wave of economic growth.

Collaboration, investment, upskilling our workforce – and even taking risks -are the ingredients required to transform and improve patient care.

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