Health Care

“We’ll be Like the Silicon Valley for Healthcare in Canada”

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It’s been barely a year since it’s launch and Ryan D’Arcy said “it’s been moving like a bullet train: a lot has happened, and there’s a lot of progress.” D’Arcy is SFU’s BC Leadership Chair in Multimodal Technology for Healthcare Innovation, and is referring to the fact that Surrey BC’sInnovation Boulevard is being primed to emerge as a world class digital healthcare technology cluster.

D’Arcy caught the science innovation bug early in his career.

Having the chance to come home with his innovation and collaboration playbook that proved successful in Halifax, he didn’t hide his bullishness on the future of Surrey. He envisions a massive opportunity in front of the Innovation Boulevard.

“One of the rapid ways you can affect health from both an improved care perspective and an economic development one is rooted in technology,” he said. “Engineering, science and the development of new technologies can be fast acting and have impactful meaning for health.”

“The raw ingredients are all here.” He pointed out  “We have the strength of SFU’s Applied Sciences program, Fraser Health corporate head office (the health region serves more than 1.6 million people, and has $2.9 billion annual operating budget – 2010/11) Surrey Memorial hospital (home to B.C.’s busiest emergency room and a $512-million expansion), the City of Surrey itself (2nd largest city in BC and the 12th largest city in Canada with a population of over 468,000). Along with access to some still affordable real estate, the overall formula is here to attract the right people, the right teams, with the right ideas to build a world class health technology cluster.”

There’s an estimated 180 health-related businesses already located in the area. As well, further driving innovation is the addition of SFU Surrey and the city expanding their high-speed Canarie fibre-optic network. All of this is essentially located within one square mile, as D’Arcy characterized the walk down King George Highway “as the spinal cord of the Innovation Boulevard.”

Maryam Sadeghi is the CEO of MetaOptima Solutions, and the science and technology adviser for the Digital Health Hub. She shared how it was question about the future licensing of her technology that lead to a conversation with D’Arcy. With a telemedicine solution for the prevention and detection of skin cancer, she was trying to understand the potential of working with Surrey Memorial Hospital or Fraser Health.

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She candidly suggested that “It didn’t take much conversation before D’Arcy opened up the door to this research lab, with a bunch of computers and said ‘this is all yours’. Bring MoleScope, bring your experience, and bring the vision of creating more companies like yours at SFU.”

“A lot of startup companies who have great ideas are challenged to test things in a real environment. It’ crucial getting the necessary feedback to improve on what they’re trying to eventually commercialize,” she pointed out. “It’s a real strategic benefit to be here, having access to the university resources, grants, funding, Fraser Health and Surrey Memorial. It’s going to be very attractive for companies to come here, we’ll be like a Silicon Valley for Health Care in Canada.”

From D’Arcy’s perspective, “it’s an unprecedented example of partnership in BC’s history. Historically the province has under-performed in its ability to connect and partner in order to compete in the global race, and to some degree we’ve shortchanged ourselves.”

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By unprecedented partnership, he pointed to four universities and others incoming, as well as health authorities and businesses generating an excitement around working together. D’Arcy credits much of this to the role that the City of Surrey is playing, saying “the city is like Switzerland in it’s neutrality by allowing everyone to come in to be part of this.”

For the healthcare technology community this partnership is also allowing for the launch of Health Tech Connex. D’Arcy isn’t characterizing this as an incubator or accelerator. He says “it’s first and foremost about location, location, location. Proximity to the healthcare professionals is vital. It’s all about facilitating access to the right people, and helping companies from early stage university spinouts to multinationals to move their commercialization efforts along much faster.”

Entrepreneurs will also be able to count on the support and services of the BCTIA and Life Sciences BC through their roles as founding partners. There are currently about 30 companies in the screening process, and asking for access to the hospital, pilot projects, clinical trials, or university resources. Demand to join is growing at a pace D’Arcy didn’t imagine even in his most optimistic moments.

Sadeghi is so convinced of the potential for this digital health hub and the Innovation Blvd concept, since August 1st 2013 she’s essentially been mentored full time. She plans to join the SFU research team shortly, but said it was question about the future licensing of her technology that lead to a conversation with Ryan D’Arcy: “it’s all about helping realize this vision.”

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It takes more than buildings, pavement and technology to create a winning business cluster. With D’Arcy driving the vision and acting like the connective tissue, Innovation Boulevard stands to be a difference making destination.

This story originally appeared in BetaKit

How Wellness Can Save Health Care

Train wreck is a term used by medical professionals in both the literal and figurative sense. There’s literally treating the injured survivors of a real train wreck. Then there’s treating those people who are simply a walking train wreck of personal neglect. Inactivity, obesity, smoking, alcohol and drugs, poor diet are the health care system’s apocalypse.

The numbers (from 2010) don’t lie according the Public Health Agency of Canada: “More than half (58 per cent) of all annual health care spending in Canada is for chronic diseases, at a cost of $68 billion a year. Chronic diseases cost Canadians at least $190 billion annually (2010). More Canadian adults of working age (34-64) are living with chronic diseases which are affecting their health and wellbeing. Chronic diseases can increase income inequities, deplete household wealth, increase health spending and lower labour productivity.”

The founders and clinical directors of Vancouver’s Connect Health, Dr. Ashley Riskin and Dr. Lawrence Cheng have witnessed countless preventable train wrecks as ER physicians.

“By the time things reach me in the ER it’s already too late. I’m dealing with the end stages. Yes we could do some heroic things like save part of someone’s heart muscle from a massive heart attack. But the more I thought about it, if we could have intervened much earlier and much more upstream in the persons life, we could have changed the trajectory of how their life had been. They wouldn’t be in the ER department at 2 a.m.,” says Cheng. This experience is pushing them into forefront of practicing medicine in a new way.

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This is not a two-man show, this is a team of professionals who have a new vision for health care. Wellness is leading the conversation. The seven-minute discussion along with a prescription in hand is replaced with the doctor and patient becoming equal partners. Healing is a very fine and delicate art form. Connect Health is delivering an integrative andfunctional medicine approach, that’s rationally combining western and non-western modes of healing.

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The doors officially opened in June 2011. The journey hasn’t been easy. The regulatory environment was not an encouraging one for physicians to work with non-physicians. It’s proven to be a big jump for these two groups of professionals and practitioners to work together. Albeit slowly, the regulatory situation is improving, making for a more positive climate to operate this type of clinic.

It was an introduction to each other by Andrew Weil in 2008 that laid the foundation for Connect Health.

“We call it a health care system, but it’s really a disease care system. We know, that even by conservative estimates 50 per cent, maybe even 70 per cent of most chronic diseases, which are largely responsible for clogging our already overcrowded emergency departments everywhere, are largely preventable,” says Cheng. “I needed to think about how I was going to practice, and how I could be more effective in helping people.”

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Connect Health is a non-profit clinic with a proactive approach to address complex chronic conditions. It’s comprehensive, holistic and empowering. This model represents the potential future of healthcare.

There’s an illusion that health care in Canada is free. It’s not. Just because there isn’t a bill for every visit or every treatment doesn’t mean it’s a free service. Every single treatment, procedure or prescription drug doesn’t come with guaranteed coverage. A visit to Connect Health does come with a bill. But maybe it’s time we start putting a value on our good health.

Riskin points out they spend at least a full hour with each patient. “Our intake form is 27 pages long. It goes through everything, and we actually get a chance to know the patient even before we meet them,” he says.

“These visits aren’t covered by MSP. Even though we charge for that hour, and the public perception may be that we’re making tons of money, the reality is that we’d be better off doing walk-in medicine. Ultimately the goal is to come up with a sustainable model where physicians aren’t having to take a pay cut to work in a clinic like this. That’s how it’s been up to now, but we’re all interested in making a model like this work.”

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Think about the stuff we don’t hesitate to buy: toys, gadgets, devices, distracting experiences. We don’t hesitate investing in extended warranties for big ticket items, insurance or investments to secure our financial futures. Yet, investing in changing behaviours and investing in good health doesn’t resonate with many people.

Shifting the conversation as Dr. Riskin offers is about offering positive reinforcements: “As Dr. Dean Ornish says, if someone with heart disease is sitting in their wheelchair and choking down a cigarette, telling them to stop smoking because they’ll die, quickly ends the conversation. They likely reply ‘I’d rather die than stop smoking.’ It’s much more powerful suggesting that they’ll be able to hold their grandkids, and walk again.”

 This story originally appeared in the Huffington Post BC