The future of health

January 11, 2023

For business owners, plan sponsors and administrators

Manulife, in collaboration with Communitech, sponsored a Call for Solutions to address some of the biggest challenges facing the country’s health care system. In mid-December, ten innovative new products were pitched to the industry and investors. In this post, Kim MacFarlane looks at the past-future, and the future-future, of Canada’s health care system.

The future of health – déjà new

By Kim MacFarlane

Vice-president of Group Benefits Products Manulife

An anniversary quietly came and went, without much fanfare, last November 28th. That day marked the 20th anniversary of the Romanow Commission’s final report: Building on Values: The Future of Health Care in Canada.

The federal commission, led by former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow, spent about a year and a half travelling across the country, conducting public hearings, and talking to Canadians about their health care system, its sustainability, and their hopes for the future.

The future came. And went

Twenty years later, I think it’s fair to say we’re living the future that the Romanow Commission paved the way for. And while it could be fun to look back at the Commission and its 47 recommendations to see what it got right, and where it might have missed the mark, I think it’s more productive to look ahead and consider the question: where do we go from here? What do the next 20 years look like?

Now is the time – a call for solutions

To that end, Manulife has taken a leadership role to inspire the next generation of made-in-Canada health care innovations. 

In September, Communitech, a community of technology founders in Kitchener-Waterloo, issued a Call for Solutions. Tech firms across the country were rallied to propose workable new answers to some of the biggest challenges in today’s health care system. These are issues that affect the people who work in the system, and the patients who depend on it. 

The call went out for fresh thinking in four broad categories: 

Prevention: making primary care and preventive care a priority.

Systems design: streamlining the process to bring new systems and solutions to market.

Interoperability: improving communication and information sharing between health providers to create better patient experiences and outcomes.

Equity: providing equal access to adequate care for all Canadians. 

Interestingly, the Romanow Commission tackled these same challenges, but at a much different time. Right off the top of my head, I can list half a dozen noteworthy events that Romanow and his team couldn’t have planned for, but many of which influenced the ideas pitched by firms in response to the Communitech call.

20 years ago, we weren’t expecting:

  • The opioid crisis
  • Scientific advances such as pharmacogenetics and the ability to use DNA to match patients with medication
  • Wide-scale use of wearable devices that bring people closer to their health than ever before
  • A world-wide pandemic, and the effects of 2 years of lockdowns:
    • Health care provider office closures during lockdown: delays in diagnosis and treatment
    • The rise in virtual care options, and the public’s adoption of digital solutions
    • The crisis in health care – workers burning out and leaving the profession
    • The mental health crisis across all age groups

Inspired thinking

In response to the call put out by Communitech, on December 13, 2022, ten different founders and innovators presented their solutions to an audience of over 150 interested partners, industry members, and investors.

Creative new thinking, ideas, and products were showcased that would advance healthcare through:

  • improved patient monitoring
  • shorter wait times for diagnosis and treatment
  • better communication and comprehension between health providers and their patients
  • improved electronic medical records and sharing of information between health providers
  • enhanced virtual care options
  • tools to address the health care staffing crisis
  • easier and more accurate tracking of patient diet and nutrition, and 
  • greater access to treatment across cultures, demographics, and geographies

I was inspired to hear these founders speak so passionately about their solutions. Many of them have already achieved a tremendous amount of success proving the value of their products, and they’re now seeking new partners or funding to take the next step.

As I listened, I was also struck by how far we’ve come in the 20 years since the Romanow Commission. 

In 2002, I viewed the government as leading most health care initiatives. The Commission itself was a process that took just over a year and a half. Today, bright, independent minds are applying innovative thinking and technology to solve persistent problems. In the four months since the Call for Solutions was issued, ten viable solutions have been presented to help overcome a wide range of challenges. I believe this kind of collaboration is exactly what is needed to preserve, grow, and protect the public healthcare system that we all value so deeply.

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