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Developing new technologies or systems has to be combined with incentives to adopt them in a timely manner. At The Ottawa Hospital, researchers are collaborating with patients, their families and care providers, as well as governments, private-sector companies and international partners to enhance the impact of health technologies and data.KUMANAN WILSON

Experience shows that innovation in health care can play a significant role in unlocking efficiencies while – at the same time – improving quality of care. For example, the Ottawa ankle rules, a product of world-leading research in clinical decision support, are recognized internationally for optimizing the use of diagnostic imaging for ankle or foot trauma. Not only do they save time and money, they also prevent unnecessary exposure to radiation for patients.

The Ottawa Hospital, where the ankle rules were developed, is building on its strong tradition of innovation by leveraging research, technology and data capabilities to tackle some of today’s most urgent challenges, says Alan Forster, vice-president of Innovation and Quality at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at uOttawa.

He sees an “open innovation model,” which brings together partners from both inside and outside the health-care system, as essential. “We need to collaborate to address current challenges like the flood of care demand that comes with an aging population,” says Dr. Forster. “We need to enhance the collaboration with patients, their families and care providers, with governments and private-sector companies as well as with international partners.”

While Canada’s situation may be unique, made-in-Canada solutions can have a positive impact across the globe, he says. “By building a global network for innovation, where we all strive to accomplish better health outcomes, we can get there faster.”

A partnership between The Ottawa Hospital and Israel’s Sheba Medical Center aims to translate technology capabilities and social innovation in health care into tangible outcomes by leveraging a model called ARC: accelerate, redesign and collaborate.

The model combines prioritizing digital technologies, encouraging teamwork and creating the infrastructure for innovation, explains Dr. Forster. “By enabling partnerships with private-sector entities to test out their ideas with the appropriate oversight, we can evaluate and help to accelerate the uptake of the most promising solutions.”

For Doug Manuel, public health specialist, senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and distinguished professor at uOttawa, the ambition to leverage technology and data to create a “learning health system” is reinforcing the hospital’s reputation as an innovator. He says, “We know the cycle of learning from past experiences, but can we build systems that accelerate it? And can we embed that into our practice?”

Dr. Forster says developing new technologies or systems has to be combined with incentives to adopt them in a timely manner. “Virtual health care, for example, seems a perfect solution for Canada, a country defined by size and severe winters that can restrict travelling,” he says. “And everybody has a smartphone with videoconferencing functions. Yet there are barriers preventing us from widely adopting this tool for virtual health care.”

The technology that enables people to have their medical appointment from home already exists. And there are systems that allow the remote monitoring of vital signs and other health functions. How can all this be leveraged for improving patient care?

The answer comes from data, believes Dr. Manuel, who is working to leverage clinical data, community data and behavioural data to inform care delivery. “Data can be used for predictive analytics,” he says. “At The Ottawa Hospital, there are dozens of algorithms describing a patient experience. These can be used for predictive studies that can determine the outlook for these patients, for example, whether they are likely to be re-admitted or need home care.”

Data can enhance the ability to deliver robust personalized treatment plans for an individual, says Dr. Manuel, who adds that The Ottawa Hospital is collaborating with technology partners to upgrade its systems to reflect advances in big data, machine learning and AI.

In addition to enabling virtual health and predictive analytics, technology also carries significant potential to improve the “business of health care,” says Dr. Forster. “How can we manage our capital with a view of bringing the best value to the system? If we use technologies to efficiently manage our time and people, there are huge opportunities to be realized.”

But what does this mean for patients? How does it affect our ability to care for Canada’s aging population? Dr. Forster believes technology advances can translate into high-value health care at the hospital and beyond.

“Today, the hospital is often the last resort when the health situation of patients has deteriorated and they cannot function in their current environment. But we need to be more proactive,” says Dr. Forster. By integrating medical, social and technological innovations (picture, for example, virtual health consultations, drones and autonomous vehicles to support care), people can stay in their homes – connected to their families and communities – as they age, he says. “If we can counter age-related isolation, we can improve health outcomes at the same time.”

The Ottawa Hospital supports the path towards this vision, says Dr. Manuel. “We see the hospital as a resource for patients and the community. And we want to make resources available for partners who create innovation and applications for improving health.”

Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.