The Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute is taking advantage of a new Council of Academic Hospitals of Ontario (CAHO) initiative to streamline access to new digital health and other innovative health technologies for testing, ultimately benefiting patients faster. CAHO, which is the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s Innovation Broker, created a system with one point of access for digital health vendors, making it easier for them to connect with the 23 member hospitals.
However, a new challenge arose: how to decide which of the 33 proposals from 29 vendors (and growing) to pursue. For example, our Hospital must weigh the needs of the patient population in Northwestern Ontario as well as other considerations such as alignment with the Hospital’s and Health Research Institute’s strategic plans, and current infrastructure to support the research and potential care programs.
Dr. Abraham (Rami) Rudnick, Chief Scientist at the Health Research Institute and Executive Vice President of Research and Development for the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, developed a specialized algorithm to help make that decision – and it’s an algorithm that CAHO’s Innovation Broker has adapted for other hospitals to use.
“Everyone has a decision-making process for long-term projects such as purchasing a PET scanner, but many hospitals struggled to screen so many applications within, say, four weeks,” said Dr. Amarjit Chahal, Manager of Business Development at the Health Research Institute. “CAHO adapted our decision algorithm to make it generic so that all member hospitals could use it.”
Currently, the Health Research Institute and Hospital are in the early stages of partnering with a vendor and a few other hospitals in the province to research a new method for following up with patients after discharge using a digital health technology. (Specific details of the project were not available at the time of this writing as the project was still at the application stage.)
Digital health covers a wide range of options including devices, web-based solutions, and smart phone apps. It is a rapidly emerging field that will revolutionize the way health care is provided – particularly for distance health.
“These innovative digital health technologies have great potential to help residents across Northwestern Ontario overcome various barriers to care including geographical, cultural, and language barriers,” Dr. Chahal said. “Above all, these technologies will bring health care closer to home.”
As examples, Dr. Chahal mentioned medication reminders that link back to the patient’s physician to help with compliance, in-home sensors that could detect a fall in elderly patients, and a smart phone app that provides access to information vetted by their doctors and other trusted sources customized to their health needs.
“It’s only been a year so far. More proposals are coming in, and now we have a process in place to prioritize and evaluate various digital health solutions, evaluate funding options, and make a decision as to which opportunities to follow.”
Funding is another key consideration. The Health Research Institute and its partners in the above-mentioned project have applied for a Health Technology Fund grant through the Ontario Centres of Excellence.
This project is one example of how research hospitals are making Ontario healthier, wealthier and smarter.