Track Your EMR Improvements with an OntarioMD EMR Progress Assessment

If you’re using an OntarioMD-certified electronic medical record (EMR) in your practice, you’re one of approximately 17,000 primary care clinicians in Ontario who’ve integrated this valuable patient management tool into your workflow. You’ve seen how your EMR makes your work better, more efficient – and has a direct impact on your patients’ health.

You’re entering patient data into your EMR. You may be capitalizing on the power of that data to run preventive care reports for more proactive care. And speaking of proactive care, perhaps you’re one of almost 10,000 clinicians getting hospital discharge summaries and other reports to your EMR through Health Report Manager (HRM). That’s the power of your EMR – and we know most Ontario primary care clinicians are discovering that power.

But are you really using your EMR to its fullest potential? Do you understand what else you could be doing with it to reach your practice goals? If you’re not sure, OntarioMD can help you. Our EMR Progress Assessment (EPA) is an online self-assessment tool designed to help you measure your current EMR use, help you prioritize what else you want to do with your EMR, and track improvements in your EMR use over time. With EPA results at your disposal, you can easily determine what you’re doing well with your EMR, and how else you could be using the technology for better practice management and improved patient care.

Your EPA results can also help us help you – which is what we’re here to do. With your EPA results as a guide, OntarioMD practice advisors can customize a hands-on support plan that works for your practice. We know not all health care technology is right for all clinicians. The more insight we have on what you want to do, the more we can do to help you get there.

The EPA and EPEP in action

Want to better understand the EPA in action? A research paper from JMIR Human Factors uses real-life case studies to illustrate how OntarioMD’s EMR Practice Enhancement Program (EPEP) helps clinicians make better use of the patient data in their EMR, improve practice workflows and meet practice clinical goals. In most cases, EPEP engagements start and end with an EPA as an essential component of the EPEP team’s analysis and work. EPA results help reveal how a clinician’s EMR knowledge, data quality and practice efficiency improve as a result of taking advantage of OntarioMD’s complimentary EPEP support.

Consider the case of Dr. F, who the EPEP team first met within 2016. At the time, an EPA and initial analysis revealed that the practice wasn’t entering data consistently into the EMR – which meant they couldn’t properly measure the quality of care they provided. Over several months, the practice and EPEP team focused on ways Dr. F’s practice could use their EMR to better capture important preventive care and diabetes data – and act on it for more responsive patient care.

An EPA and data analysis conducted six months after the engagement began showed improvement in EMR use and data quality. Another check-in more than a year later showed even more dramatic – and sustained – improvements.

Data Quality review – Dr. F

Contact us. We’re here to help!

You’ve invested a lot of time and money into adopting an EMR and building workflows around it. And we know that you probably want to do more with it. But you can’t improve what you can’t measure and track. That’s where an EPA comes in. Complete an EPA today to get a clearer picture of what you’re doing right with your EMR – and what else you could be doing with it. Find out more at https://www.ontariomd.ca/products-and-services/emr-practice-enhancement-program/emr-progress-assessment or contact us at support@ontariomd.com.

Single EMR for Canada: A Second Opinion

A national electronic health record for primary care – – http://www.cmaj.ca/content/191/2/E28 

The above editorial describes the author’s desire and need for a single national Electronic Medical Record (EMR) in primary care.  He speculates that many of our problems in primary care could be solved by such an instance, from the sharing of records between clinics to research, to specialist access to notes.  He cites single health systems in the US and Singapore as examples of how and why this could work.  This is an interesting perspective, but one which may be overly simplistic and not shine the light on the whole picture.  There has been significant progress and development made in the digital health space in Ontario over the past ten years and this should be recognized and celebrated. This, coupled with a relentless focus on systems integration across the continuum of care, is where we should put our energy.

Although we have much in common as family doctors across the country, we all ask very different things from our EMRs.  Practice environments are not the same in inner city urban centres, suburban practices, rurally, in university health clinics or aboriginal care centres.  This delivery complexity needs to be appreciated.  Nationally over 80% of family doctors already have purchased an EMR that works for them and are using it fulsomely.  In Ontario, this is over 85%.  Physicians own their systems.  They have made significant investments in these … financially, in time spent recording information about their patients, and in blood sweat and tears producing clinically useful data.  We should appreciate this effort and use the systems to their maximum.  Much has been accomplished and advancing from where we are is a very tenable option.

Switching to one EMR solution that attempts to meet the needs of 43,500 family doctors nationally is an impossible task.  And the disruption in care created by “ripping and replacing” would take decades to recover from. Canadian provinces have collectively invested billions of dollars in EMR development, deployment and mature use. We cannot afford as a society or at any level of government to start over again. That said, fundamental health system reform, advances in integrated care models and associated compensation reform should be the driver that defines how integrated digital health platforms can and should be presented at the local, regional, provincial and national level.

Satisfaction ratings with individual EMRs is actually quite high in provincial surveys.  Even with multiple EMRs on the market, connectivity is improving year over year (witness Netcare in Alberta, Connecting Ontario and Clinical Connect in ON and Saskatchewan’s eHealth portal).  In Ontario, information from virtually every hospital is pushed directly into EMRs within minutes of it being generated via Health Report Manager.  Lab results from everywhere can be queried and downloaded through OLIS.  Integration with drug and immunization repositories is occurring now.  eReferral and eConsult systems are up and running and are becoming more and more integrated into the point of care.

As we evolve into an increasingly cloud-based environment the perceived advantages of a single EMR product or database are no longer compelling.    What is most helpful is gaining access to data for clinical, research and system planning purposes.  This is less a technical issue than a policy one.  Integration and interconnectivity are the key.  We are getting closer and closer to this daily, with the advent of single sign on, contextual launching of external digital tools from the EMR, data standards and data movement.  The most unpredictable factor is a human one: even when standards exist, having people use them consistently is a challenge.  A single EMR does not fix this.  Endless dropdown lists and tick boxes do not either.  In primary care nothing is more important than the patient narrative.  We can never lose this.

Choosing a single EMR vendor has other dangers in creating a monopolistic environment.    This makes us vulnerable as a health system and as a profession.  Currently, Ontario has certified 11 EMR vendors and 12 EMR products to a set of core requirements that improve constantly over time.  This allows progress to occur incrementally on interconnectivity, data portability and system functionality.  Having a single vendor control the entire market means that we are at the whim of one company whose business interests may not be aligned with those of clinicians or patients.  We lose our collective influence.

Open source software is not the solution to this problem either.  Although it has the advantage of being inexpensive and in some cases free, it has the disadvantage of needing as much if not more support as proprietary EMRs do.  Most physicians lack the knowledge, skill and desire to program and produce changes in their EMRs themselves. They just want to get down to the work of looking after patients. Multiple different customized instances of an open source EMR do not improve the situation overcurrent state in any way.

It may seem on the surface that having a selection of EMRs nationally is folly. But experience has shown that competition drives change and innovation.  We do not disagree that there are aggravations in navigating from an EMR to a viewer or external portals, but this is a solvable problem.  The key is to build bridges allowing access to data that is required for a clinician at the point of care.  We maintain privacy, confidentiality and security more effectively this way.  Data for secondary use can be liberated easily through these structures if we create the right policy and business drivers.  All of this comes at far less risk and with a far better user experience for the average doctor.  Banks have done it.  Retailers have done it.  We are doing it.

At OntarioMD we believe in more choice not less.  We want to encourage new software products to enter the market to speed up the pace of innovation.  Some of these are EMRs, some are apps that make an EMR fly.  We want to let doctors be doctors, not computer engineers or data scientists.  And ultimately, we think that patients should be the first and last point of approval regarding the secondary use of their personal health data.  These are our principles.   We strongly believe that the best way to accomplish them is via our current approach to EMR selection, certification and improvement.  One EMR system for all is simply not a realistic option.

OntarioMD

Darren Larsen, CMO

Sarah Hutchison, CEO

 

OntarioMD’s EMR Quality Dashboard and the Important Role of Data Quality

At OntarioMD, we talk frequently about how we add value to the health care system by helping physicians and stakeholder partners realize digital health’s tremendous potential to improve efficiency, reduce wait times, and improve population health management and patient outcomes. That’s a key focus of our 2017-2020 Strategic Plan, and is interwoven in everything we do.  

But what does this mean in practice, exactly? It means that each offering under OntarioMD’s products and services umbrella – whether it’s something developed in-house like Health Report Manager, or a product like eConsult that our head office staff and field teams deploy on behalf of one of our partners – needs to meet these objectives. And it means that the primary care providers that look to OntarioMD as a trusted advisor are confident we’ve done the work needed to ensure the products and services we bring to their practice will help them with patient care and practice efficiency. 

Our ongoing work on the EMR Quality Dashboard initiative is a prime example of the rigorous testing and analysis we apply to ensure our offerings aren’t simply digital health tools, but innovations that integrate and add value to the system. We launched a proof of concept in 2015 to demonstrate how user-friendly dashboard tools use real-time EMR data for improved clinical outcomes and practice efficiency. In phase 1 of the proof of concept, we worked with vendor partners TELUS Health and OSCAR EMR, physician advisory board members and other health care sector stakeholders, to develop a framework that would allow clinicians to view their patients’ data measured against a range of widely-accepted health indicators, and to take immediate action by identifying patients in need of follow up.   

We’ve since expanded both the number of health indicators incorporated into the dashboard and the number of participating clinicians. Today, more than 400 clinicians from across the province are participating in the proof of concept. Their feedback and experiences will be reflected in a benefits evaluation after phase 2 ends in December. But we already know that by using the dashboard to view their patient population data across indicators for conditions including smoking status, cancer and diabetes, participating clinicians can see and quickly respond to preventive care trends among their population.  

They can also easily see where the data in the EMR appears to not match their patient care experience. For example, if the Dashboard shows that smoking status isn’t recorded for most patients, but the clinician knows it is, they can then take action to make sure the information is stored in the right place. An EMR’s potential can only be tapped into if data is being entered effectively. 

In recognition of the importance of change management and ongoing support in the adoption of new tools, this initiative has incorporated the expertise of OntarioMD’s EMR Practice Enhancement Program (EPEP) practice advisors. They are deploying the Dashboard to all participating clinicians and supporting them in getting the most out of the tool. The EPEP process involves first analyzing a practice’s workflow and EMR data and then working one-on-one with clinicians to improve their data quality so that the patient information in their EMR can be effectively used for better patient care. When paired with a digital health innovation like Dashboard, that’s a powerful combination that can lead to better patient care for all. 

We’re currently working on a business plan for the eventual province-wide availability of the Dashboard that will ensure that clinicians on all EMRs have access to both the tool and, crucially, the data quality support offered by OntarioMD’s EPEP team.  

For more information on OntarioMD’s EMR Quality Dashboard initiative, please visit https://www.ontariomd.ca/products-and-services/proof-of-concepts or email us at emrdashboard@ontariomd.com. To talk to an advisor about the quality of your EMR data or about any digital health tool, contact OntarioMD at support@ontariomd.com.  

 

What Digital Health Means to Primary Care

What do you think of when you hear the words digital health? Is it the latest medical health tracker app? Your electronic medical record? Robot doctors?  

Digital health includes all these tools, and many more. But the true essence of digital health – and the reason why it’s worth celebrating with its own Digital Health Week – is something much bigger than the technology itself.  

Digital health is a technology-led evolution aimed at empowering patients and clinicians. It allows us to better monitor, manage and improve our own health and well-being, while allowing clinicians to improve patient outcomes through more responsive technology and better use of patient data.  

In Canada and around the world, digital health is providing tremendous clinical value through improved  access to care for patients, reduced costs, cost avoidance, greater efficiencies, and better quality of care. 

The work we do at OntarioMD is guided by our aim to empower physician practices and enhance the care they and their teams provide patients using EMRs and digital health. We do this through focusing on innovation, and on forging strong relationships and collaborating with health care industry partners to offer products and services that deliver measurable value to the Ontario health care system.  By connecting clinicians with the right tools to meet their practice objectives and ensuring they understand how to effectively use those tools, we help them follow up faster with patients, ensure better coordination of care between all health care providers connected to a patient’s circle of care, reduce unnecessary hospital readmissions, lower wait times, and avoid administrative costs. 

Consider our award-winning Health Report Manager (HRM), for example.  Clinicians using an OntarioMD-certified EMR can use HRM to securely receive patient reports into their EMR from participating hospitals and specialty clinics. With HRM, primary care providers know when their patients get discharged from a hospital or specialty clinic, and all medical record and diagnostic imaging reports they need to ensure effective follow-up are transferred directly into the patient’s medical chart in their EMRs. This eliminates the need for mailed or faxed paper reports and time staff spend handling them.  Most importantly, it lets clinicians be more proactive and provide patients with the quality care they need, fast. 

We’re also helping clinicians use digital health to take action to combat Canada’s growing opioid crisis. According to Health Canada in 2017, there were 4,000 opioid related deaths, up 25% from the year before.  

Digital health offers the tools needed to better combat crises such as this. By tapping into the power of their EMR, clinicians can analyze their patient data to learning more about trends and demographics. Armed with this information, clinicians can identify those patients who are most at risk of opioid abuse, and monitor them to prevent addiction and overdoses.  

OntarioMD’s Peer Leaders and EMR Practice Enhancement Program (EPEP) staff provide clinicians with important hands-on support to help them optimize how they input and use EMR data. Our Peer Leaders and staff have helped primary care providers learn how to use their EMRs to quickly identify their patients taking opioids, the number of different drugs prescribed, and the length of time they’ve been taking the drugs. Clinicians can then create alerts within the EMR to monitor patients on high doses and create a narcotics contract between clinician and patient that can help reduce the risk of addiction and further harm by opioids.  

Whether you need help managing a high opioid risk population, or have other practice challenges and goals, OntarioMD Peer Leaders and staff are like a Geek Squad for clinicians. These clinical practice and technology experts can: 

  • Help you better understand your EMR’s functions and tools; 
  • Analyze your data entry and practice workflows, to improve the quality of patient data in your EMR;  
  • Proactively use EMR patient reminders, reports, population health informatics and more to improve your population health practices; 
  • Implement best data quality practices to access the most relevant patient information at the point of care 

Digital health has the power to improve patient outcomes and help us live longer and healthier lives. But like any technology, the impact depends on the user’s understanding of how to tap into its full potential. By working with patients, clinicians, health care stakeholders and technology vendors, OntarioMD is working to advance digital health care, for the benefit of clinicians and patients across Ontario and all of Canada.  

Keep up to date on digital health advances and our work by following OntarioMD on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn. Also, subscribe to our blog at www.ontariomd.blog and visit us online at www.ontariomd.ca for more info on all our products and services. If you have any questions or want to get connected to digital health products and services, please call us at 1-866-744-8668 or e-mail support@ontariomd.com.

OntarioMD: Advancing digital health in Ontario

Sarah-IMG_2508

Front-line health care providers, quality improvement organizations, digital health delivery leaders and government recognize that digital health delivery has become an indispensable support to keep up with increasing health system demands. It is no longer imaginable that health care could be delivered without digital information technology to manage the array of information processed and recorded for patients every minute in Ontario physician practices, hospitals, home care, long-term care homes, public health units and health care provider practices across the continuum of care. All have adopted digital health tools, in varying degrees, to manage and support patient care.

There is a lot of discussion about what digital health doesn’t do yet – the promise not yet fulfilled, and definitely the glass half empty analogy. What about the glass half full? It is truly important to understand what digital health is doing every day in the health care system.

I’m going to focus on digital health in primary care because that is the area in which we spend our time as an organization. OntarioMD has been at the forefront to rollout digital tools and services across the province to support and enable efficient and effective practice and underpinning the delivery of excellent care to patients. We are known for our success in getting electronic medical records (EMRs) into the hands of community-based family physicians and specialists. From a province with one of the lowest adoption rates when our work began, to now one of the highest. How valuable are EMRs to the health care system? They’re more valuable than people may realize. More than 15,000 physicians and more than 1,100 nurse practitioners are using them to care for about 11 million Ontarians.

EMRs in primary care enable clinicians to manage your personal health information in a secure manner. EMRs require login credentials to access information, and no charts will be misplaced or lost. Protecting personal health information is critical to all of us. EMRs are the secure virtual filing cabinet to protect your information and make it accessible only to those to whom you give consent. We take privacy and security obligations very seriously and we offer a comprehensive program to enable physicians to stay up-to-date on their obligations and how to protect your information in their EMR systems.

Let’s say you were in the hospital emergency department last week and experiencing severe abdominal pain. If your physician used an EMR, they would be getting your discharge summary about your visit from the hospital directly to the EMR through OntarioMD’s Health Report Manager (HRM). They see your discharge summary in their EMR inbox, with a summary of your visit and it is increasingly likely that they may have called you for a follow-up appointment before you call the office.

Whether you are a patient with a single lab test or you require regular laboratory tests to be performed. Physicians are sent your results electronically by the laboratory, and they can also query OLIS (Ontario Laboratory Information System) to see your results. EMRs enable the physician to display results graphically, and this makes a lot easier to review trends in your results, supporting discussions about what might be working well or where attention needs to be focused.

Prescriptions generated and managed in EMRs provide extraordinary value. With an EMR, your physician can alert about drug indications or potential conflicts with current medications. Thousands of Ontarians experience adverse events due to drug interactions every year. EMRs have helped to reduce adverse drug events. It is one of the most valuable things digital health delivers for patients and the health care system.

If your physician wants to ask a specialist about something, he or she can make a request through an online portal and get an answer often in hours. This means you don’t have to wait for months and then take time away from family or work to go to a specialist for something that could have been dealt with by your family physician. OntarioMD is working with our partners in the Ontario eConsult Program to make it even easier for physicians to request an eConsult through their EMRs. This is just one of the ways we’re connecting the health care system to benefit patients.  

Back to the glass half empty – can everyone in the health care system seamlessly exchange data electronically to care for patients? No, but we’re getting there. Ontario physicians understand that the way forward is digital. They see its value and potential by using their EMRs and connecting to OntarioMD products and services and those of our partners that augment the value of digital health to realize better patient outcomes and healthier Ontarians.  

What about the physicians who use digital health and their needs? It’s great that they’re using digital health in increasing numbers to care for patients. We care about their workflows and ensuring that they get the training and ongoing support they need.  We know that it is important to create capacity in a physician’s office to support their adoption and best use of digital health tools and services, all while they are getting on with their most important work – delivering excellent care to their patients.   

Let’s keep working together to fill that glass and realize even more value for our health care system!

EMR Quality Dashboard: Data Quality and Analytics

In this fourth entry in our video series on the EMR Quality Dashboard, OntarioMD CMO Dr. Darren Larsen discusses the importance of good data quality and how analytics can help patient care through population health management.

How EPEP Helps You Reach Your Practice Goals

OntarioMD’s EMR Practice Enhancement Program (EPEP) helps you realize even more value for your patients and your practice by tapping into more of the benefits of your EMR. EPEP staff will work with you and your staff to achieve your unique practice goals, at a time that’s convenient for you. We will analyze your EMR workflow and data quality, and identify quick wins that achieve tangible results or save your valuable time. EPEP emphasizes hands-on support as you move beyond basic data capture to use your EMR for enhanced patient care and improved practice efficiency. 

Watch the latest EPEP Success Story to find out how EPEP helped one practice focus on population health through better prevention and screening management. For more information on EPEP, visit https://www.ontariomd.ca/products-and-services/emr-practice-enhancement-program

EMR Quality Dashboard and Change Management

Today’s Digital Health Shift vlog is the third in a video series of OntarioMD CMO, Dr. Darren Larsen, speaking about the EMR Quality Dashboard. In this segment, Dr. Larsen discusses how leadership and collaboration amongst health care organizations are driving change to benefit patient care.

Digital Health helped save my baby and kept me sane twice!

digitalbaby.JPG

Submitted by Amanda Story, OntarioMD Practice Advisor 

On April 11, 2017, at the Muskoka Algonquin Health Centre in Huntsville, my third child was born. Clark was a perfect 19 inches long and 7.7 pounds, with a full head of hair.  But things quickly got scary, when his blood sugar and body temperature began dropping and his breathing became irregular. He was stabilized, and we were transferred to Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital. 

Little did we know our journey with Kabuki Syndrome was about to begin. Kabuki syndrome is a rare, multisystem disorder characterized by multiple abnormalities including facial features, growth delays, varying degrees of intellectual disability, skeletal abnormalities, and short stature. There’s also the potential for a wide variety of additional symptoms affecting different organ systems. Kabuki syndrome affects males and females in equal numbers, and specific symptoms can vary greatly from one person to another. The incidence of Kabuki syndrome has been estimated to be somewhere between 1 in 32,000 to 1 in 86,000 individuals in the general population.  

Sick Kids Hospital was up and running on a computerized charting system, and was able to get all the test results from our local hospital quickly. It was amazing how hospital information flowed – physicians of all specialties sharing one chart, no test duplication, everyone knowing and seeing what had been ordered, what was pending and what the plan was.  I was a stressed out, tired and scared mom, and I appreciated not having to repeat Clark’s history over and over again.  When Clark would decide to throw a wrench in the plan, it was easy for the nurse and I to note it and a message was sent to the physician to get new orders and/or a new plan. The digital health system made it easy for the changes to be communicated to his entire team of cardiologists, respirologists, and endocrinologists.  

Eventually Clark rallied, and we were transferred closer to home, to The North Bay Regional Health Centre. It was a big adjustment. We were surprised that communication between Sick Kids and North Bay Regional Health Centre was by paper and mail. When Clark regressed a bit, it was hard to compare results, causing duplicate tests and delayed treatment while phone calls were made to discuss results. We had experienced the power of digital health at Sick Kids, and appreciated how all the health care providers were connected. At the time, North Bay didn’t offer this – though it has since implemented a computerized system. It did offer video conference calls through the Ontario Telemedicine Network’s system, which allowed Clark’s entire team to connect and get his treatment back on track. 

We finally made it home after a couple more weeks. Unfortunately, our stay at home was short. Within a couple of months, Clark caught a cold and a bad cough. We quickly took him back to North Bay Regional Health Centre, where he was admitted and put under observation. After the first 24 hours, Clark got worse. The following day, he went from needing a little bit of oxygen support to needing to be intubated and rushed to The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), which had been consulted during his rapid decline. During transportation, his heart got tired and arrested from working so hard to make up for the decreased lung function. The amazing transfer team from Ornge was able to revive him quickly en route to CHEO. The Pediatric Intensive Care unit was ready and had pulled together a team to assess him and move him to extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), which is a heart and lung bypass to allow him to heal.  

CHEO had just implemented a computerized charting system called EPIC. It allowed the hospital to flow information around his care, similar to what we’d seen at Sick Kids. Everyone could see and use the same information in real time to assist with coordinating Clark’s care. His entire team at CHEO – Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), cardiology, vascular surgery, perfusionists, respirology, genetics immunology, infection control, physiotherapy and pain and symptom management, along with imaging and pharmacy, were all working in one chart around a single patient. This was digital health at its best – facilitating communications and transitions in care.  

Our family physician was also kept informed through her office EMR, using Health Report Manager (HRM) to get Clark’s hospital reports quickly and keep up to date on his progress. I received many phone calls for support and counselling without having to give updates or go into details. It very much kept me sane during a very scary time.  

When Clark was able to be transferred to recovery, the same chart, same information and same teams followed him.  Even after discharge, the amazing efficiency of digital health still helps us to this day with his scheduled follow-ups. Each team can communicate and coordinate his appointments into clusters that help us save travel time, and tests and procedures can be grouped together to help minimize Clark’s discomfort. 

I am very thankful for the adoption of digital health by Ontario hospitals and health care providers. I’ve seen the high level of accuracy and understanding it offered to everyone involved in Clark’s care. It made me feel comfortable and confident that the physicians had access to everything they needed all in one shareable electronic record. Clark’s medical information followed him wherever he was treated. Digital health has helped connect all the hospitals we visited with Clark, so they could share information and make the best decisions for his care. The digital health change in our health care system is also providing more information quickly and easily to family physicians everywhere in the province. Keeping physicians up to date to provide supportive care to caregivers and other family members is easier and faster. I am convinced that digital health is removing many barriers to efficient and effective health care in Ontario, and I honestly believe it helped save my baby’s life!  

Clark is growing stronger daily. We have celebrated many “inchstones” such as regaining head and neck control and re-learning how to roll over, along with a few milestones such as pulling his socks off.  He is a very happy baby that brings so much light into our lives.

Darren Larsen on the State of Digital Health in Canada

This post was originally published April 29th, 2018 on RDP Associates

Dr. Darren Larsen is Chief Medical Information Officer (CMIO) at OntarioMD. As CMIO, Darren provides clinical advice to many provincial and national steering committees and clinician advisory groups and has been instrumental in forging system-level partnerships in many sectors. Darren is a tireless champion of optimization of EMRs and health informatics in empowering Ontario’s physicians, with a focus on quality patient care and practice efficiency. He provides a clinician perspective and guides all aspects of OntarioMD’s work to evolve and advance EMRs and digital health for primary care and community specialist clinics. This includes clinical practice change, quality improvement, data quality and analytics, and EMR maturity measurement. He recently shared his insights with RDP Associates on the state of innovation in Canada’s digital health sector.

____________________________________

Canada’s biotech and health-tech industries are among the most dynamic and innovative sub-sectors of the tech industry. But despite its dynamism, scaling up and go-to-market remain pressing challenges. Why is that?

Indeed, Canadian minds are anteing up some amazing ideas in the digital health space. We have such a strong well to draw upon for creativity and innovation. There is an endless need for new products, services and thinking in health care, for patients, providers and the health system, yet despite the demand, it is incredibly hard to bring innovation to market. I frequently say that real change requires resolution not revolution, and it is hard to maintain excitement and enthusiasm when the system falls short of the needs of innovators beyond the ideation phase. The reasons for this are complex, but some key issues that we could collectively work on to try to improve the situation quickly bubble up.

a) There is very low tolerance for failure in health care. Some of this is predictable, based on clinicians’ training in evidence. Some fall at the health system level, where even small failures lead to blame rather than learning, and it often becomes a story on the front pages of a newspaper. Some of this is even cultural. As Canadians, we do not trust our own innovators until they have been proven in another market or immediately hit the news.

b) Our classic public-sector procurement rules are complicated and hard to navigate. This leads to a bias toward established companies which have greater capability to persist and respond.

c) There is a basic distrust of business in our socialized health care system. The private sector is viewed with suspicion, and the introduction of profit motives makes those of us who believe and have invested in socialized medicine, somewhat wary. We must find a middle ground.

d) Regulatory issues abound in health-tech, from Health Canada medical device status rules, to technical standards often being vague, to privacy legislation being used as an excuse to stop innovation even when it is designed to permit it.

e) The investment/venture capital landscape is different and less permissive in Canada than it is in the US. It is frankly easier to find investors and backers south of the border than it is within our own country.

f) The desire to take a chance on promoting and partnering with new companies is low in Canada. We are guilty of “death by a thousand pilot projects” and accept this as the norm. Most pilots are created to test a very narrow product or service window of safety rather than facilitate scale and spread of the same. Unlike in the start-up space, in healthcare, we lack the “fail fast and fail forward mentality”, which is essential to the innovative process.

Many government grants are generic, but some are industry-specific such as those for clean-tech and agri-tech. Do we need specific grants that target biotech and health-tech sectors to ease some of the challenges they’re facing?

This might well be an option to try. The use of grant money could be tied to co-design or creative procurement that does not predict the final end-point for a product, but rather allows it to evolve organically until it reaches a desired state or value. Design thinking methodology could, and likely should be placed into the grant awarding process. Technology engineers, designers, and providers must align to ensure that they have created a product or service that is actually needed. Then, a shift to value-based funding and support might ensure ongoing success. Currently, many innovation grants do not consider scale and spread of an idea or product. There are incubators that provide in-kind expertise rather than cash. And there are investors who want to see successful companies move forward. The sweet spot is combining these in partnerships.

How would you describe the relationship between the government and Canada’s tech sector including its startup community? Where do health-tech and health care fit into their dynamics?

I possess a cautious optimism in this space. There is certainly an increase in the promotion of start-ups and a growing community of innovators who network and learn from each other. Also, we are seeing some fantastic government-supported or -partnered innovation hubs like MaRS, McMaster Innovation Park, the BMZ and DMZ at Ryerson University, and Velocity at the University of Waterloo, which are great as examples in Ontario alone (and more nationally: Ontario even has a Chief Health Innovation Strategist in the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, William Charnetski. These are great starts, but these are early days and this is still nascent work. It will take a long time to change a culture.

Are there sub-sectors of Canadian healthcare that conduct a significant amount of R&D?

I see a lot of progress in Canada now with the creation of health care “living labs“. These are unique spaces where partnerships are used to test products in working environments like hospital units (Mackenzie Health, Southlake Hospital) or human-centred design spaces (UHN Centre for Global eHealth Innovation, JLabs by Johnson and Johnson, Bridgepoint Active Healthcare) or digital health evaluation spaces (MEDIC at Mohawk College, WIHV at Women`s College Hospital). These serve as platforms for integrated thinking about solving clinical problems using integrated technology, not as siloed projects that are procured individually. I believe these may be our future.

What is your definition of a ‘value-based healthcare system’ and what are its key defining parameters?

Value takes many forms and changes according to who is looking for it and what their goal is. Certainly, from the government’s perspective, the value can be calculated in the ratio of quality (or outcomes) over cost. This is very important when setting budgets and ensuring that they are getting what they pay for. This is often the default value proposition in a publicly-funded health system, and it is indeed important.

Value, as measured by a patient, is a whole other proposition. They may value being listened to, having a concern demystified, or simply being told they will be fine.

The clinician perspective exists in the intersection of the health system and patient lived experience. We face the multifaceted challenges of unprecedented demographic change, medical system evolution, and continual demands to innovate every day. But on the positive side, this can challenge physicians in creating solutions.

Ultimately, the value can be only generated in trusted relationships. All three players in healthcare (funder, provider, patient) must work on mutual trust to achieve common goals. This is more than value; it is being valuable.

Do you think the newly revamped tax laws in the U.S could be incentivizing Canadian health-tech companies to move south?

Certainly, permissive tax rules may have an influence, but I believe that tech companies venture south before developing a strong presence in Canada for some far more basic reasons. The US market is much larger. An entrepreneurial spirit is deeply ingrained in American culture. There is greater degree of tolerance for failure. There is much more capital to draw upon from investors who are willing to take a chance on health-tech, knowing that they will win some and they will lose some. Still, there are challenges in the US too. It is a dog-eat-dog world in health care south of our border. Sometimes the stories of speed in success or failure are a distraction from a business purpose that enables longevity. Real change requires resolution rather than revolution.

This interview was conducted by Reza Akhlaghi, a digital content and social media strategist at RDP Associates.