In this series, we ask some of Canada’s Top Growing companies to share advice on finding new and innovative routes to success in an unpredictable business environment.
A casual observer might look at Think Research Corp.’s products and peg the Toronto-based company as a maker of digital checklists, forms and telemedicine apps.
That much is true – but it’s only part of the company’s story.
“We make software for health care providers that organizes medical knowledge and data to improve patient care and support better decisions,” explains Sachin Aggarwal, chief executive officer of Think Research, which was founded in 2006 by an Ontario critical-care physician who saw the inherent inefficiencies – and potential for error – in handwritten treatment orders.
“Health care knowledge and evidence changes so quickly that health care systems have trouble keeping on top of all these changes affecting thousands of medical conditions each day,” adds Mr. Aggarwal. “We have the technology and the research team to take all that new knowledge and evidence and distil it into software and tools, like treatment protocols, that ensure clinicians are delivering health care according to the most current information.”
Think Research is also growing, earning a spot on The Globe and Mail’s Top Growing Companies for 2020 at number 201.
The company’s products for COVID-19 present a compelling case study of just how quickly disease information can change.
Within days of publishing its first COVID-19 treatment protocol in February, 2020, Think Research had to update it with information coming in from the medical field and from health authorities around the world.
“When we started discussing the appropriate protocols in mid-January, the evidence wasn’t there to support protocols different from what would be applied to other respiratory conditions,” recalls Mr. Aggarwal. “Fast forward a month and COVID-19 started to differentiate in terms of how it presents and the evidence for how to treat it.
“That led to never-ending changes – sometimes we were changing our protocol three to four times a week – and it’s still changing today.”
This COVID protocol was subsequently adopted by the Saudi Arabia government, which now uses it across the country’s health care system. Think Research has also made the protocol available to all health systems, at no cost.
Mr. Aggarwal says the rapidly growing – and changing – body of global medical research isn’t the only challenge for clinicians trying to stay up-to-date in their practice. The very nature of data is also changing, owing in large part to advances in research technology.
At the same time, innovations such as telemedicine, artificial intelligence and machine learning continue to move into clinical environments.
“COVID caused a bit of a seismic shift in technology adoption and in new uses of technology,” Mr. Aggarwal says. “Today, we’re seeing technology that is really helping to make the lives of doctors easier and that provides a better experience for patients. We believe our decision support tools and telemedicine solution are among these helpful technologies.”
These decision support tools aren’t all geared toward clinicians. Think Research also makes patient-facing tools such as post-appointment, follow-up questionnaires and apps that connect patients in clinical trials with their doctors or research team.
Beyond a better clinician and patient experience, Think Research’s products also lead to savings for the country’s health systems, Mr. Aggarwal says. When doctors do the right thing at the right time, treatments tend to be more effective and fewer mistakes happen.
Today, Think Research products are used in more than 2,800 health care settings across Canada, the United States, Britain, Europe and the Middle East. The company has grown into a team of 250 employees and continues to grow organically and by acquisition.
Last January, the company announced it was acquiring MDBriefcase Group Inc., a Toronto-based provider of accredited digital education for clinicians.
Mr. Aggarwal says growing on a global scale has, logistically, been easy for Think Research; there are no physical products to ship, and technology assists in making connections and advancing transactions. The real challenge has been building credibility.
“Health care is a business about trust, and we’re fortunate that we started our international expansion long before the pandemic so that when it happened we already had relationships with health systems and hospitals around the world,” he says. “We also have staff on the ground in various parts of the world, and we continue to develop relationships during this critical time.”
Think Research also continues to innovate. Mr. Aggarwal says he expects to see telemedicine – which has become table stakes in health care – evolve further. He sees potential for cloud computing and blockchain to enhance patient safety and privacy. He also believes artificial intelligence and machine learning will gain prominence in health care technology, driving a higher quality of care while lowering costs.
“We’re entering a golden age of health care technology – the willingness to adopt technology has never been stronger, the expectations of patients with respect to technology has never been higher, and the dollars and focus from investors has never been more significant,” Mr. Aggarwal says. “These are all going to help our growth, and we feel like we’ve only started to scratch the surface of what’s possible.”