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COVID-19 has ushered in new technology, processes and systems many experts have been recommending for years. In looking at the future, insiders aren't hoping for a 'new normal.' Rather, they are seeking a 'new path forward' that delivers a better standard of care than this country is used to.

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on healthcare, and when it comes to healthcare technology, the industry has experienced a rapid pace of change over the last 100 days.

At the latest virtual TechTO Health event, experts in health and tech came together to share insights and lessons accumulated from their research and experiences.

Here are seven recommendations that the speakers at the latest TechTO Health event shared with the group.

1. Move Beyond a Siloed State

Mark Casselman, CEO of Digital Health Canada, recognizes that, as challenging the past 100 days have been, there has also been a tremendous opportunity for change. One concern he has, however, is that, as the country has been working through a mission-critical crisis, people have been driven back into organizational silos. In doing so, companies may be losing out on cross-functional synergies, brainpower, revenue and opportunity. “We need to continue to rise up and go cross-sector,” said Casselman. “We need to look for opportunities to get out of a zoom call and look for new people and partners to engage with.”

While an innovative mindset is necessary at this time, loss of revenue in certain areas can handcuff a move forward. “If you’re operating on a razor thin budget, you can’t invest in innovation,” he explained. The need to look across the company for pockets of funding is therefore critical.

2. Pursue Virtue over Profit

Dr. Duncan Rozario, Chief of Surgery at Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital discussed how virtue and virtual care have had a significant impact on patient care and patient experience.

“COVID has exacerbated fundamental inequalities in society,” said Dr. Rozario. “Instead of returning to ‘normal’ we should be focused on pursuing a better ‘after.'” He further explained that a lack of virtue has caused significant issues for our population.

As we explore a new path forward, Dr. Rozario urges the healthcare system to pursue virtue over profit — to focus on compassion, trust, courage, justice and wisdom, temperance and hope. “This is the pathway to success and happiness in life. This is also the pathway to success in business and healthcare as well,” he said. By taking the time now to slow down and focus on change in our culture, to focus on the planet and community and focus on virtue instead of profit, we can achieve a more balanced society, which includes more equitable access to resources and care.

3. Restructure the System

Zayna Khayat, Future Strategist at Saint Elizabeth Health Care, helps people live and age at the place of their choice. As the futurist of the organization, her job is to figure out what’s going on so they can make smarter choices down the road. She showcased how there has been more health innovation in the last 10 days than the last 10 years. She also highlighted how various crises brought about innovation in tech. For instance, SARS birthed Ali Baba, 9/11 reshaped security and transportation technology, and the financial crisis gave rise to service marketplaces (i.e., Airbnb) and gig worker trends.

Further to this theme, Khayat said, “Healthcare innovations are the most high demand concept in the world right now.” While home has replaced in-person and facility-based medicine, Khayat cautions that we can’t let the system revert back to where it was – otherwise, we won’t be prepared for the next pandemic. Only by pushing forward with healthcare innovation can we create an experience of care that meets the needs of patients and clinicians in a place they want to be.

4. Respect Home Care Workers

Adrian Shauer, Founder and CEO of Alayacare believes there will be a fundamental shift in care settings toward the home, given the impact COVID-19 has had on long-term care facilities. In fact, patients already prefer to be at home and care at home is typically cheaper. What COVID brought to the surface, however, is that infection control is more easily realized in de-centralized settings, and that a lot of value can be delivered virtually. But home care doesn’t have a demand problem. It has a supply problem. Front line care workers do not generally enjoy an acceptable level of respect and compensation.

As Shauer points out, 80 per cent of turnover of frontline care workers is because they don’t have stable or enough hours, which leads to income instability. So you have a shortage of work while also having a shortage of labour supply, and the pandemic has highlighted the fact that society needs to treat this important asset better than we have to date. Shauer also believes that technology can help bridge the gaps. It can help strike a balance in home care resources, offer support for family and workers, and provide real-time data insights to improve the level of patient care.

5. Use Technology for Health Monitoring

Mike Wessenger of Point Click Care is an industry-leading innovator and has taken on the challenge of solving senior health care. He discussed how in the next three years, Canada will see a silver tsunami hit the healthcare system as the wave of demand for long-term post-acute care will hit with considerable impact. “If we don’t change,” he said, “We will bankrupt healthcare systems around the world.”

When COVID hit the system as an early stressor, however, two things became top solutions for those in long-term care. The first is the ability to monitor patients without having human beings around 24/7. COVID provided the early warning system, and shone a light on the fact that more has to be done. “We will start to see funding models and the way see people see telehealth change over the long-term,” he said. The second is informal care – for instance, those highly motivated friends and family members. Wessenger is excited about the opportunity for caregivers to update friends and family members directly through technology, which can help them get involved in more aspects of care.

6. Support Virtual Mental Healthcare

Lori Casselman is President and Chief Revenue Officer at Wello Healthcare, which offers virtual healthcare through a B2B platform. She focused her discussion on the need to manage fear and anxiety among employees and pointed out the following statistics:

  • 85% of Canadians who have access to employee benefits want virtual healthcare
  • 49% of Canadians report COVID has had negative effects on their physical health
  • 60% of Canadians have developed mental health concerns – mainly anxiety – through the pandemic

“The next great pandemic is likely to be a much enhanced mental health crisis,” said Casselman. “If you think about it from an employer perspective, a heightened priority on strong, significant and comprehensive mental health strategies to support employees will be essential.” Fortunately, businesses have adapted and listened, offering home office subsidies, virtual health care benefits, and an increase in the promotion of well-being strategies. Casselman encouraged the employers in the group to enhance their focus on mental health, including virtual mental health supports that can have significant impact.

7. Address these Three Key Areas

Tune into the next TechTO Health for more valuable insights from tech and health experts during this pivotal time.

John Ruffalo is a legacy tech investor, and in listening to the presentations, drew a few key conclusions. For one, he suggested that COVID, rather than changing anything dramatically, has rather amplified or accelerated underlying trends that should have been there for many years. “A lot of what we heard about digital healthcare has been discussed for many years, but for some reason (mostly inertia), that product market fit didn’t seem to be there. What COVID has done is given a shot of adrenalin and accelerated what would have previously taken us years.”

He also highlighted that COVID exposed some key vulnerabilities, especially in critical supplies. “The fact that we couldn’t even produce our own PPE is shameful for our country,” he said. “Now that we know where the exposures are, we have an opportunity to address them.” So as we get through this phase of getting back to work, he asked: “As an ecosystem, how can we drive opportunities around healthcare? How can we do healthcare in a better, more efficient fashion?”

  1. Access to capital – A number of companies are starting to scale and seeing rapid market adoption. But these companies need capital throughout every stage. The challenge with COVID is that funding sources have had a hiccup. “What we might have to do is temporarily seek help from the public sector to give the capital sources a shot of adrenalin so we don’t lose all the great capital sources that have been produced over the last ten years,” he said.
  2. Access to talent – No one is going to be able to build business without talent. Fortunately, he sees Canada in a position of great advantage as compared to the U.S., given the move there to cut off work Visas. The result will be tech savvy individuals will come to Canada. “We need to ensure we have people from all sources of society that are involved in the digital health arena,” said Ruffalo.
  3. Access to customers and markets — The delivery of healthcare is very localized, so as such we need to look for opportunities in our own backyard and demonstrate to the government that we have outstanding companies. There is no need to source elsewhere around the world.

As the country moves forward through the pandemic, the intersection of technology and healthcare will continue to deliver essential solutions to Canadians. How the system and society decide to leverage the opportunities available will help determine the level of care in all areas of health.