The Future of Health: Improving Access

April 7 is World Health Day and an opportunity to motivate action on today’s health challenges.

April 4, 2023

For business owners, plan sponsors and administrators

Accessing the care you need can be tough, even in the best circumstances. A recent study found that two-in-five Canadians (41%) say they either had a difficult time accessing or were totally unable to access key health services.1

But many Canadians face barriers beyond the familiar difficulty scheduling appointments.

Rural Canadians may face lengthy travel challenges. Those seeking mental health support may struggle to bond with a therapist, especially if they have unique language and cultural needs.

We sponsored Communitech’s Future of Health program to address challenges like these facing Canada’s health care system. Based in Kitchener, Ontario, Communitech leads a national network of 28 innovation hubs, and they rallied together to identify the most significant challenges and opportunities in Canadian health care while also sourcing the most promising solutions.

Layla Care and Rocket Doctor are two of the ten companies identified through the Future of Health program that are positioned to advance health care access and improve patient experiences.

Layla Care leverages tech to make therapeutic connections

You might be used to calling or emailing clinics hoping to get an appointment. Instead, what if an innovative service could present you available therapists that specialize in your needs and fit your preferences?

Founder and CEO Samer Abughannam says Layla Care can do that. “We want to make the process to find the right therapist as streamlined as possible.,” Abughannam says.

Patients complete an online form, and then Layla Care’s platform algorithmically suggests multiple therapists that may specialize in their therapeutic concerns. And that could provide better results. A recent study shows matching patients with therapists’ strengths can improve mental health care outcomes.2

But patients aren’t left with only a robotic referral. They can discuss their options with care coordinators. The team of trained care coordinators guide patients to the right fit for their individual needs. Then the patient can schedule an appointment that works for them—online, by phone, or in-person.

“We call it a human-first approach to tech. Giving you choice but giving you some guidance as well,” Abughannam says.

That is a significant change that can take administrative effort off patients and clinicians. And when requested, Layla Care is going deeper on interpersonal fit between patient and therapist.

“We can match on specific identifiers or lived experience that are relevant for therapy. Factors like language, gender identity, or race and using that background to inform the therapy. This makes our services more inclusive and facilitates the forming of alliance between patient and their therapist and the delivery of culturally sensitive care,” Abughannam says.

Layla Care’s tech-assisted approach could improve access while better aligning with patient needs.

“We're trying to be human and create a space for patients to feel comfortable. It goes back to earlier intervention. All of this helps get people the right care faster, in a way that they feel comfortable with,” Abughannam says.

Layla Care currently works with patients in Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia.

Rocket Doctor virtually brings the doctor’s office to rural Canadians

As an emergency physician in Ontario, including parts of the North, Dr. William Cherniak saw some of the challenges rural Canadians face accessing health care.

“It can sometimes be really tough for patients to access clinical care. I remember, in Timmins, there were folks that were driving two hours from a goldmine to come in to see us,” Cherniak says.

Through that work, as well as in the Greater Toronto Area, he realized that many patients coming to the hospital didn’t necessarily need emergency services, meaning it was an inefficient use of patient time and our health care system.

“I found that there were so many patients coming in for reasons that did not really need the emergency department and could have been managed in an outpatient primary care setting. I started to think, could there be a way to pair advanced technology to optimize health care and enable patients to get access to that care,” Cherniak says.

So, Cherniak founded Rocket Doctor as a platform that enables physicians to practice medicine virtually.

“We coordinate independent physicians into a system of care that we present to patients, to then help match them to the best provider for them,” Cherniak says. “Our core feature is to first ensure that virtual care is appropriate for patients, and then intelligently match them with providers, then we give those providers digital tools and support to make their practices efficient and smooth.”

Cherniak says Rocket Doctor can connect patients with virtual primary, urgent, and specialist care. He says his experience seeing patients on the platform shows how effective virtual care can be to improve access no matter where patients live.

“When we first launched Rocket Doctor, I saw thousands of patients myself on the platform. I'd run a clinic and see patients in a single hour from places like Kenora, Back Bay, Ottawa, Toronto, and elsewhere” Cherniak says. “One patient was a new mom in a rural community who just had a positive pregnancy test but didn’t have a family doctor. I was able to order some bloodwork, an ultrasound and refer them to an obstetrician. Just one of many patients in need of support.”

Rocket Doctor is currently available to patients in Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia. And the platform has also expanded within Ontario to assist individuals struggling with substance use and addictions.

“You can talk to an addictions medicine doctor in 24 hours or less entirely using OHIP,” Cherniak says. “It's helped thousands of people to get off of alcohol, opiates, amphetamines, and helped them take control their lives again.”

Advancing the Future of Health

There may be issues that affect the people who work in our health care system, and the patients who depend on it. But there are entrepreneurs working to better the future of health in Canada.

Layla Care and Rocket Doctor show how the next generation of made-in-Canada health care innovations could improve access for us all.


1 Access to Health Care: Free, but for all? Nearly nine million Canadians report chronic difficulty getting help, Angus Reid Institute, 2022.

2 Constantino MJ, Boswell JF, Coyne AE, Swales TP, Kraus DR. Effect of Matching Therapists to Patients vs Assignment as Usual on Adult Psychotherapy Outcomes: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Psychiatry. 2021;78(9):960–969. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2021.1221

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