In Canada, federal and provincial governments and health organizations have in recent years invested in digital health technologies and innovation across its provincial and territorial health systems, including Personal Health Record (PHR) or Patient Portal initiatives with access to medical record information and a variety of digitally delivered health services (eServices), with investments totaling several billion dollars, at par with other advanced nations. According to Canada Health Infoway, the current estimated value to Canadian health systems where e-view of PHRs and digitally enabled health services are in use is between $106 to $134 million a year. The pillars of effective healthcare, however, rely on patient experience, population health, provider satisfaction, and healthcare costs.
Digital Health Canada, Canada’s industry association for digital health professionals supporting over 2500 members advocating for advancing healthcare through information technology, hosted its second annual “Driving the Future of Digital Health” Conference in October 2018. The event brings together diverse professionals in Connected Health as they innovate with mobile and digital solutions to meet the growing demands for faster, better and efficient healthcare delivery. Highlights this year showcased how technologies like Mixed Reality, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Bots, Robotics, Blockchain and others can be leveraged to engage and empower end-users and patients to meet Canada’s Healthcare challenges. This year’s Conference attendance was more than twice as high as last year’s, with over 200 Ontario digital health professionals converging at the Beanfield Centre in Toronto. Read on about some of the day’s central themes.
Digital Health Canada’s CEO Mark Casselman kickstarted the day introducing opening keynote speaker Dr. Zayna Khayat, Future Strategist, SE Health. Dr. Khayat spoke about “The Future of Health(care) in a Digital World”. Massive change is coming to our health system in this era of digitization and democratization. However, our systems of healthcare were designed some 150 years ago and were neither built nor groomed to adapt to change at this scale. Dr. Zayna Khayat explored how new digital tools, consumer pull and unsustainable business models are accelerating the shift towards the future of health(care) and what steps we can take now to align/orient ourselves to this future. Her slides can be viewed here.
Next up was a panel on “Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in Healthcare: The Future is Now” featuring Tatiana Lomasko (Head of Operations and Strategic Partnerships, SOSCIP), who talked about “Driving Innovation with Advanced Computing” and Linda Kaleis (Lead Data Scientist, MEMOTEXT), who spoke about “Using Machine Learning to Design Precision Engagement”. MEMOTEXT, a digital health start-up builds patient profiles to deliver evidence-based interactive self-learning reminders, educational and motivations personalized to patients’ needs, regimens and media choices.
Bill Simpson (Medical Science Liaison, Winterlights Labs) spoke about “Monitoring Cognitive Health Through Speech”. Said Bill: “Drug development in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is hampered by our ability to identify at-risk groups before the onset of clinically significant symptoms. WinterLight Labs is addressing this problem by pioneering a speech-based AI technology to help accurately predict and monitor risk for dementia years before a clinical diagnosis is obtained. Our approach has the potential to help researchers identify dementia in its earliest stages, improve our understanding of the illness and assist in the development of new drug interventions.”
A virtual keynote from Dr. Walter Greenleaf (Research Neuroscientist and Medical Product Developer, Stanford University) outlined the immediacy of AR and VR applications in healthcare. This was followed by a session on “Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality – Changing Reality for the Patient” where Dr. Lora Appel (Post-doc Research Fellow, OpenLab) discussed the positive outcomes of using VR to help older patients with mood and mobility issues. Dr. Fahad Alam (Anesthesiologist, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre) and Dr. Clyde Matava (Anesthesiologist, The Hospital for Sick Children) discussed how their VR tool helps patients acclimatize to the operating room, reducing post-surgical stress and its resultant co-morbidities.
Michael Thibodeau (HoloLens & Mixed Reality Lead, Microsoft Canada) spoke about “Understanding how to leverage the spectrum of MR technologies in healthcare”. His presentations on the vital applications of mixed reality and virtual reality for improving training, education and patient outcomes can be viewed here. Mona Al-Rei (Research Associate, McMaster University) also presented findings on “Automated 3D Brain Cancer Visualization” detailing how 3D modelling of the cancer tumor from a set of 2D Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM) images can provide a more direct and realistic visualization for the clinicians, improving the medical education, clinical diagnosis and treatment with cancer visualization, detection, and monitoring.
Conference attendees interacted with exhibitors in the Experience Showcase featuring some very cool AR/VR products as well as useful apps and demos from digital health innovators at Novari, Gevity, Morneau Schepell, MEMOTEXT, CloudDX, iamsick, Mediseen, OPTT, ActiveSTAK, Deloitte, and INVIVO.
After lunch, Will Falk (Executive in Residence, Think Research) and Dr. Sacha Bhatia (Director, Institute for Health System Solutions and Virtual Care, Women’s College Hospital) explored the concept of building a sensible policy framework for virtual care, to provide opportunities for a thriving community of Canadian digital companies to expand, while helping support doctors and nurses better care for patients in their plenary session: “How Virtual Care is Modernizing Canada’s Healthcare System to Meet the Needs of Patients and their Families.” This was followed by a presentation on “Bots and Robotics: Transformation and Innovation Challenges and Methods” by Emmanuel Casalino (Health Practice, Ernst and Young) and Janos Nadas (Sr Manager, Deloitte Canada), who shared why transforming organizations to embrace automation or identifying how to innovatively leverage robots are not straightforward.
Mark Rajack (Innovation and Partnerships, Niagara HealthDigital) then presented “Trust and Mobile: Driving Scale and Unlocking Future Innovations of Connected Digital Health,” an overview of how emerging technologies and design patterns such as federated digital trust and blockchain will change how patients and providers interact with the healthcare system by delivering a truly scaled out secure ecosystem of mobile applications and services that will drive the connected digital health system of the future.
Twenty years ago, only about one-in-four Canadians had Internet access – and most clinician practices were entirely paper-based. Today, clinicians in Ontario and across the country are using digital health tools to record and track patient health records, access lab results, receive medical reports and discharge notifications from hospitals and specialty clinics, and get advice from specialists that would otherwise require patients to make unnecessary in-person visits. In the near future, it’s expected that clinicians will have comprehensive access to digital health tools and services that manage patients’ medication history, track immunization records, and more. OntarioMD has now helped more than 16,000 community-based physicians, specialists and nurse practitioners connect and use EMRs. Sarah Hutchison (Chief Executive Officer, OntarioMD) asked tough questions about how to engage in dialogue, listen to ideas and understand the importance of integrating patient information to learn about what it takes to engage and support physicians and other healthcare providers with digital health, and how to get physician input so they can champion its value to colleagues, in her presentation “Not Without Me: The End User in the Digital Health System.”
The conference culminated with a discussion on “Engaging Patients in Their Communities” led by Dr. Puneet Seth (Chief Medical Officer, InputHealth), Will Falk (Executive in Residence, Think Research), Dr. Sacha Bhatia (Director, WCH-WIHV), and Sarah Hutchison (OntarioMD). Canada’s Digital Health industry will need to rely on a change in mindset to keep in step with today’s user and advances in technology (smartphones, voice search, wearables are just a few) in the face of challenges or barriers like regulations, privacy concerns and labour negotiations, to deliver significant impact and transformative care like virtualization.