Does Health Care Innovation Matter to Canadians?

By Peter Lindfield, published in the Telegraph-Journal 29th June 2012

Canadians are facing a time of increasing fiscal constraint in health care. The escalating costs of technology hardware and pharmaceutical products, demographic shifts and rising expectations for medical outcomes will conspire to keep a focus on long-term health care solutions. Two interlinked terms have become ubiquitous in discussions about health care’s future: transformation and innovation. There is increasing agreement that the current health care system is not sustainable in the long term.

Innovation, then, should be at the center of the lexicon of Canadians’ discussions about how health care will change. But University of Toronto academics Neil Seeman and Carlos Rizo draw a different conclusion. In a 2009 research study, “Communicating the Health Care Innovation Agenda to Canadians”, Seeman and Rizo examined how effectively Canadian governments are communicating the rationale for an innovation agenda in health care and how intensely Canadians express interest in health system innovation. Using web tools such as Google Insight and Trends, the researchers investigated health information trends from 2004 to 2008 tracking press releases as “a proxy for how governments signal priorities to the public and to the media.”

The results of their inquiry are surprising. Seeman and Rizo’s analysis highlights that governments are not effectively communicating to Canadians about why innovation matters. Although politicians and health care experts place significant emphasis on innovation, the concept is rarely defined, in part because health care innovation can refer a bewilderingly wide array of terms. They include such esoterica as process transformation, electronic health records, breakthrough strategies or new management models. Each is intended to ensure improved health and greater return on investment and in fact achievements are being made in each area.  But Seeman and Rizo ask, “When our politicians talk about “investing” in electronic health records and other e-Health innovations, why do the public’s eyes glaze over?”

When reviewing the public’s interest in health care innovation, Seeman and Rizo found lessons that governments in Canada should heed when communicating the innovation agenda. The public does not share governments’ enthusiasm for health care innovation as the term has been developed in Canada.

Seeman and Rizo’s findings point to the fact that the terms innovation and e-Health, as currently used by governments, “do not signal the types of health topics in which Canadians have a keen interest.” They state that, “Health innovation communications in Canada needs to be recast to focus on solutions that enable citizens to experience more personalized care … that speaks directly to patients’ key interests.”

Their analysis also underscores the fact that Canadians are most interested in seeking out information that provides them with a better understanding of their illness and their personal relationship with their health care providers. More Canadians will be supportive of an innovation agenda if governments and health care provider organizations can demonstrate that technology or other process innovations in health care serve the future of personalized medicine.

Innovation is at the core of the transformation goals and objectives that underpin what governments and politicians think are necessary to meet the challenges associated with health care, education, social programs and economic development. If governments have achieved only limited buy-in to its innovation agenda from the Canadian public, the implications for the future of public policy are profound. Ultimately, governments need to make improvements in more directly translating the practical return on investment on innovation if they want an innovation agenda to matter to Canadians.

Governments need to better demonstrate the future financial benefit from such investments. This means throwing a spotlight on how investments in innovation will translate into a higher quality of care for individuals, their families and their communities. This will generate greater support for a model of health care delivery where Canadians are accountable for increasingly better outcomes, not only for themselves, but for the health system as a whole.

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Filed under Government transformation, Health Care, Innovation

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