Health Care Innovation Is Difficult

By Peter Lindfield, published in the Telegraph-Journal 15th May 2012

In countries around the world, no public good or government program has undergone as much radical change over the last 100 years as health care. Treatments, pharmaceutical products and medical devices have become dramatically more effective while the scope and scale of knowledge in the field has increased exponentially. In Canada, more than a million people list health care as their occupation. Canada is a recognized world leader in health research accounting for more than $6 billion in research budgets.

From a financial standpoint, health care has become the most intractable social program. In the face of increasing fiscal pressures, provincial governments have placed a spotlight on the need to contain the rising costs of health care. The Canadian public and their governments annually spend more than $180 billion on health care and much of this expenditure is under provincial jurisdiction.

The current fiscal challenges and the price of economic recovery effectively limit the availability of health care dollars. The fiscal crisis provides an opportunity to reshape current health care systems by reducing the growth rate of health care costs, while increasing productivity and improving health outcomes.

Yet even though health care innovation has been a priority on the agendas of every provincial government over the last ten years, little headway has been made. This drive to innovation has occurred under the rubric of alternative service delivery, supply chain re-engineering and process improvement, but change has been largely incremental.

In the face of the mounting challenges, why has more radical and transformative change not taken hold in the health care field? Change is clearly needed. The future demand from an aging population, rising expectations to meet current patient needs and the escalating costs of technology and pharmaceutical products have each conspired to ratchet up budgetary pressures.

One of the reasons that change is so difficult is that the number of stakeholders and players is enormous. The roster of team players includes health education and research institutions, such as universities and research hospitals; health and life sciences companies, including firms in industries such as pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical devices and medical informatics; health and health care non-governmental organizations and professionals; and government departments, including those that manage finance, health and innovation portfolios. There is no question that there is sufficient capacity in Canada’s health care system to manage our health care challenges.

Another reason that health care has become resistant to monumental change is that, for more than ten years, health care professionals have been immersed in a work environment where endless change has been the norm. Workshops, seminars, conferences, forums, consultations and town halls have produced a professionally uncertain workplace where everything is top priority. Without the proper alignment and integration of innovation goals to ensure that all members of the health organization work in harmony, productivity inevitably suffers.

There are such a large number of opportunities to reshape health care that strategic collaboration is a critical success factor. Aligning the incentives of the critical stakeholders in the health care orbit would go a long way to improving the prospects for innovation to take hold.

Health care innovation can be a potent enabler of better health and health care. For this innovation to be successful will require new technologies, new skills and capabilities, new ways of working and the establishment of an innovation culture. Since Canada possesses hundreds of thousands of different points of care, transformative progress will require the support of the public, the commitment of clinicians, and the creativity and political will to support this transformation.


1 Comment

Filed under Health Care, Innovation

One response to “Health Care Innovation Is Difficult

  1. You’re right about our health care being too complex. This divying up of knowledge to specialized groups might seem the right approach, but it makes the whole environment static. “They” claim to be evidence based, but I think teh truth is they are brutally slow to change.

    I have seen the effects frst hand. In fact, I was so fed up, I sought my primary advice from the cyber-world, from other patients. A long story short: I’m now my doctor’s best patient.

    Awhile ago after attending a presentation by a diabetes researcher in St. Johns, NL, I decided to attempt to map out my team. She had presented a graphic of my team for me and other diabetics in the room, and I was taken aback that she didn’t even mention other diabetics when I was thanking my fellow druggies for saving my life. Here’s my result.

    I hope you can see it. If not, let me know.

    The number one thing it told me was it’s too complex and too resistant to change. It was failing me despite its complexity.

    Now lets take another twist. Lets assume — even though I believe it fully — that we’ve made a major mistake in the past. Let’s just suppose that dietary animal fat and cholesterol are not bad for us at all. They do not cause heart disease and do not contribute to obesity, cancer, alzheimers, or any other disease in any way, shape, or form. Hold back that desire to call me a whacko, at least for a moment. Let’s just suppose we got it all wrong. Let’s suppose instead that carbohydrates (all of them) are the bad guys. They are the ones that cause hyperinsulinemia and obesity, dislipidemia and heart diseases, feed cancers, and the abscence of fat devistates many brains which are in fact 70% fat.

    Let’s just say all of this is true. Does it make sense that such a system wouldn’t respond? Does it make sense that such a system would resist? Add billions if not trillions of corporate dollars into the mix. Isn’t this a recipe for disaster? Look around you. Look in the mirror. We are not a people who are all failing to follow goood eating habits. We are a population systematically told to eat poorly. We are systematically being made to get sick..

    I am one of perhaps ten or tweny million people around the world rebelling against our food and health care systems. I try to eat a 70% fat diet. I refuse to take statins. And I am not getting worse; I am getting better. We are getting better. I’m down 25lbs and my wife 18. My A1C is a stellar 5.6% with almost no effort and I rarely hypo. I was 911’d nine times from hypos between 1995 and 2006. I went blind for three months in 2006 from retinopathy and had surgery. I have shown zero signs of damage since 2008 when I started eating like this. I’m 51 years old and my BP is that of an 18yr old. I am 51 years old and have fought this disease 37 years.

    I have zero faith in our health care systems.


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