Healthcare, Meet Accelerator: How a Startup Mindset Could Save Canadian Healthcare

Many Canadians are rightfully proud of our health care system. However, there are many aspects of it that cry out for improvement.

We face challenges of access to physicians and other health care providers. Our medical record systems are surprisingly primitive and fractured. Medical errors have real and sometimes fatal costs for patients and our much of our precious financial and human resources are lost to inefficiency.

How can the Canadian health community appropriately innovate to solve the problems of today and ensure we can be proud of our system of tomorrow?

One possible solution is to emulate Rock Health, a digital health incubator based in San Francisco. This organization selects unique and promising startups with the goal of “mak[ing] meaningful change in healthcare through scalable, innovative technology.”

Over four busy months, companies improve on their product through prototyping design iterations while solidifying their business model. Rock Health brings these companies together so that they help each other through this process, and taps in to a vast network of alumni and supporters to lend expertise and guidance—people who innovate and develop businesses as seriously and diligently as clinicians diagnose and treat patients. At the end of the four months comes Demo Day, where these companies showcase their product or service to investors, usually with positive results.

Rock Health and organizations like it offer several features sorely lacking in the Canadian healthcare community. There is a culture rallying around innovation and collaboration. Startup founders can devote all their time to their project whereas clinicians must balance several disconnected responsibilities. Demo Day offers a chance for investors to take a serious look at startups, but there is no analogous systematic process in healthcare. Worse still, there is no way to consolidate lessons from failures as there is in Rock Health’s close-knit community.

The realities of Canada’s health system mean that an accelerator solution must be adapted if it is to be built into the system. We are not trying to spin off companies. We are not trying to monetize anything. There is no sky-high financial or economic upside to anything becoming wildly successful—there’s no instrument analogous to equity. We don’t benefit from early adopters being in our target market.

Solutions must fit for a large range of users with various levels of comfort and access to technology. Furthermore, many patients cannot afford to take risks with their health for the sake of innovation, limiting innovator boldness and audacity. However, the importance of health means that it can no longer be solely entrusted to institutions and have never had terms like “user-experience design,” “agile development,” and “lean process” spoken in its corridors.

Though the accelerator model is not perfect for Canada’s healthcare system, the principles and culture of an organization like Rock Health are badly needed. Just consider the potential impact. While there is tremendous excitement in the innovator community because the market for wearables is projected to reach several hundred million dollars in the next few years, Canada spends $200 billion per year on health, with 191 million visits to a doctor, 16 million visits to an emergency room, and 2.8 million hospitalizations.

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Thoughtful innovation can rethink how data is mined to improve decision-making and reduce costs, address the seemingly infinite and infinitely frustrating encounters with the “waiting” system, and address human resources shortages by supporting health care workers who spend much of their day completing tasks they are woefully overqualified to do.

These are just some ways that an accelerator’s innovation mindset can have game-changing effects and enable a relentless pursuit of excellence in health care. The opportunities for human and financial impact are tremendous.

A platform like Rock Health embedded within our institutions and sensitive to the medical realities in Canada can re-prioritize innovation with the potential for dramatic results in efficiency, patient experience and clinical outcomes. This is our national treasure, and the time for this transformation is now.