COVID-19 has forced Canadian healthcare to adapt at an unprecedented rate, creating an opportunity for new solutions and technologies to drive better crisis responses and outcomes. With innovators leading the dialogue, the haze is finally beginning to clear on the next steps to tackle the global coronavirus outbreak; out of the chaos, measured innovation emerges.
On Monday, March 23, the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU), hospitals in Southwestern Ontario, and local primary care physicians announced the launch of a new interactive self-assessment tool in partnership with Canadian healthtech startup InputHealth. The online tool helps patients self-diagnose for COVID-19 symptoms and warning signs and will help to alleviate the pressure our region’s healthcare system.
An advocate as much as she is an innovator, Anna Foat is a digital transformation leader and member of TechAlliance’s Board of Directors. She also serves as a patient voice as a member of the Ontario government’s sub-committee for the Council of Improving Healthcare and Ending Hallway Medicine, where her keen eye for human-centred innovation, and technical intuition provides a bridge between healthcare professionals and innovators.
“There are a lot of tech companies that don’t have insight on the clinical path, just as there are a lot of doctors that are unaware of what tech can afford them. Being at the table means that we have voices who are patient-centred, coupled with innovators who can present digitally-specific solutions.”
Foat says that establishing a relationship with forward-thinking primary care physicians like Dr. Daniel Pepe was a gateway to understanding how she could leverage her skills to improve care for all. “It’s been such a benefit. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about clinical processes, the importance of some of those clinical pathways, and why they exist. In turn, I can educate on both the opportunities and limitations of technology. We’ve been a team in the background trading notes.”
Collaborating with Public Health Agency of Canada, hospital leadership and clinicians, this task force developed a web-based tool in partnership with InputHealth that connects patients to trusted resources.
Through this online tool, people feeling potential symptoms can self-diagnose, receive personalized recommendations, and get connected to appropriate care. With the collected data, the Middlesex-London Health Unit can analyze and share valuable, real-time information on the potential spread of the virus within the community.
“We’ve seen what happens elsewhere in the world when people don’t come together and work together. This is like a shield in front of our healthcare system,” Dr. Pepe notes.
“It’s a general picture of our population’s health,” as Foat puts it. “I think the thing that the hospital saw, was that this is an agile way for them to get a read on the health of their frontline healthcare workers as well.”
Dr. Chris Mackie, Medical Officer of Health and CEO at the Middlesex-London Health Unit, has become a voice for the current state of healthcare in Southwestern Ontario. Mackie knows firsthand what massive change a technology-powered solution can offer.
“This online tool will improve patient outcomes and experience, help primary care make care decisions, reduce pressure on the healthcare system, and provide MLHU with critical data and insights needed to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Primary care is often asking for guidance based on the latest information and this tool will enable us to push out information to all doctors and nurse practitioners at the same time, in real time.”
Double down on 🇨🇦 innovation in times like these to be agile, effective and a leader. @inputhealth has been working on this for years. Canadian start ups are willing to give and engage. We need to seek them out, navigate procurement & elevate. https://t.co/SBjeJAlPqZ https://t.co/WQNyVjgq9P— annafoat (@annafoat) March 24, 2020
Simply put, innovation is a team sport. Foat insists that open communication and knowledge-sharing will be keys to mobilizing the right solutions. “We’re focused on bringing the best in medtech forward. It’s essential to figure out where the puck is going, then gather all the talent possible together in support of one common goal.”
Support from within the healthcare, business, and technology ecosystems has also been vital to mobilizing rapid change, according to Foat. “There’s been so much cooperation and willingness. We’re thrilled with the leadership at the local hospital level from Dr. Gillian Kernaghan and Dr. Paul Woods, and the sponsorship from the province, as well as Bruce Lauckner, CEO of Ontario Health; they’ve all moved mountains to accelerate this project and fund it within a few days.”
InputHealth is one of many technology solutions that will help to address COVID-19. But Foat sees it also pointing to bigger, nation-wide opportunities — if people are willing to work together and be ready to change and adapt.
Understanding that it takes an innovative mindset across many different verticals, this breakout tool is garnering attention from health agencies in Ontario, British Columbia and the Prairies. And for innovators in Southwestern Ontario, this serves as an example of how to enact real change. “It comes down to putting down what they’ve always done. There is no room for ego here, just open minds that can collaborate, quickly.”
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