Smart Entrepreneurs are Paying Close Attention to the Huge Tech Transformation in Healthcare

Canadians lost a combined $1.1 billion, or an average of $1,202 per patient, as a result of lengthy waits for medically necessary health care in 2013, according to a new study released by the Fraser Institute.

The study, The Private Cost of Public Queues for Medically Necessary Care, calculates the average value of time lost during the work week for each of the estimated 928,120 patients waiting for surgery in Canada last year. When calculations include hours outside the work week—evenings and weekends, excluding eight hours of sleep per night—the estimated cost of waiting jumps from $1.1 billion to $3.4 billion, or an average of $3,681 per patient, says the independent, non-partisan Canadian public policy think-tank.

“The negative impact of wait times on the productivity of patients and their ability to participate fully in life is an issue too often ignored in the health care debate,” says Nadeem Esmail, study author and Fraser Institute director of health policy studies. “Reduced productivity in the workplace, or reduced ability to engage with family and friends, may impact family income and increase stress for Canadian patients.”

Esmail suggests “sensible health policy reform” as a solution, but we think technology may be an answer, too. For example, electronic health records could speed up many processes in the industry, thus reducing wait times.

Healthcare doesn’t get a lot of love from the tech ecosystem but it’s ripe for multi-billion-dollar disruption. Ilan Shahin, a Toronto-based family physician, believes a startup mindset could save Canadian healthcare: “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,” he writes.

Don’t get me wrong—we’re making progress. But as Harvey Skinner, William Thatham, and David Prive opined earlier this month, “it will take the combined muscle of government, the private sector, academic institutions, healthcare and public health leaders, and the commitment of many individuals to have this vision realized nationwide.”

Currently, we’re stagnant. We’re in a bit of a rut. But guess what? That means opportunity.

“Healthcare is traditionally a very reactive industry: we adapt and react when a problem arises, but especially within the realm of healthcare information technology and communication we seem to be stuck in a ‘if it ain’t broke’ mentality,” writes Andrew Ringer, the CEO of Canadian EHR company Professional Performance. “This lack of foresight and eagerness to innovate and embrace change has the possibility of leaving us scrambling for new ideas in the coming years.”

Sounds like a wide open window: the smartest and most successful entrepreneurs identify the biggest problems and offer the best solutions. A technology startup in the healthcare space today has the potential to tap into a $10 trillion market that is still growing steadily at 10% per annum. That kind of number should send a pang of excitement down any entrepreneur’s spine.

“It’s an industry that’s undergoing massive transformation,” affirms Dion Madsen, Senior Managing Partner at the BDC Healthcare Venture Fund.

“In the past, you got sick, you went to the doctor’s office, you sat in a waiting room for a while, you get five minutes with the doctor, and then you’re home, with a prescription,” he explains. “That’s most of healthcare interaction—primary care—dealing with little aches and pains and chronic disease. And that’s what’s being transformed to be done better, faster and with more interaction, because dealing with chronic health conditions is 85% of the cost of healthcare.”

This trend is tangible and should have entrepreneurs salivating. The potential for disruption is vast and the dollar signs are followed by many, many zeroes—what more could a startup ask for?