IT Innovation is Coming to Health Care


Over the next few years, the Canadian health care system will be one of the places to witness rapid IT adoption and the emergence of unique business models.  Fact is, our system will have no choice but to change. Many factors are combining to create a petri dish for innovation: an ageing population will increase the demand for health care; tight spending will continue to limit the availability of services; the emergence of an electronic medical record (EMR) capability (the Ontario eHealth fiasco notwithstanding); and growing standardization and interoperability between systems, thanks to emerging middleware solutions.  Moreover, President Obama’s $40B healthcare IT stimulus is likely to catalyze the adoption of EMR and new operating models in the US health care system.

Canadian decision makers may want to consider one of these innovative strategies:

1.          Satisfy the American demand for medical tourism – According to Deloitte, up to 750,000 Americans travel yearly for medical tourism.  Although difficult to measure, the global medical tourism market is $1.0B-$2.5B, growing at approximately 25%-50% per year. Canada is an ideal destination for these consumers.  We combine many natural advantages (proximity, language, similar medical standards) with “best in class” medical expertise in a wide variety of areas. Though there will be many political and bureaucratic hurdles, I’m sure there are creative ways to address this potential while maintaining the essence of our system.

2.          Commercialize their intellectual property – We have world class medical technology, services, people and infrastructure but lack the urgency and comfort (with a few exceptions) needed to generate revenue from them.  Our hospitals and research organizations will need to adopt a more aggressive, market-driven approach as well as attract the business skills and partnerships needed to commercialize these opportunities.

3.          Create on-demand IT service models – There are emerging private sector models that could be leveraged for healthcare.  For example, large healthcare organization could generate revenue by marketing on-demand medical software services over the internet to smaller healthcare institutions using a Cloud Computing strategy.  As well, with a Grid Computing model, multiple hospitals could aggregate their computing resources to boost overall processing power, reduce cost and generate revenue by selling surplus compute cycles to other research-based firms.  Naturally, there will be many challenges to deploying any of these models including privacy and security concerns as well as cultural and organizational impediments.

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