Spotlight On Innovation: MedEdge Summit 2011, York Region

Sebastian Talluri is a JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School and a Fellow of the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) / IP Osgoode Innovation Clinic.

On June 16, 2011, I attended MedEdge Summit 2011, York Region. The half-day MedEdge Summit was hosted by the municipality of Richmond Hill and sponsored by a number of organizations, including VentureLab and the Ontario Networks of Excellence (ONE). Bringing together players from across the medtech industry, MedEdge was an excellent opportunity for people in the industry to learn about the latest developments and challenges affecting the industry, as well as network with their peers.

MedEdge featured several keynote addresses, two panel discussions (including audience Q&A), as well as time for informal networking. Introductions from Mayor David Barrow of Richmond Hill and MPP Reza Mouridi got things going. Mr. Mouridi, the Paliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Research and Innovation, stressed the importance of the medtech industry to the growth of the Ontario economy. He noted that entrepreneurs in particular are to be key drivers of this growth. It was this realization that led the Ontario government to found various initiatives directed at furnishing entrepreneurs with the know-how and funding required to bring their inventions to market. After Mr. Mouridi’s brief address, MedEdge got underway.

The day was divided into two sessions. The first half of MedEdge was focused on the public healthcare system in Canada. Two keynote speakers and a panel of experts discussed the nature of the problems affecting the system, as well as the kinds of solutions that might be implemented. The first speaker was Pat Horgan, Vice President of Manufacturing, Development and Operations at IBM Canada. He expounded the importance of the use and integration of data in improving the effectiveness and efficiency of healthcare delivery. Mr. Horgan was followed by Wayne Gudbranson, President and CEO of Branham Group Inc., a global ICT consulting firm. Mr. Gudbranson discussed the nature of the problems facing the public healthcare system in some detail. He then discussed some general solutions, focusing particularly on the ICT industry and the important role it will have to play in the revitalization of healthcare in Canada. Mr. Gudbranson was followed by a panel of executives from several York Region hospitals, who discussed problems and potential solutions in greater detail.

The general problems facing the public healthcare system in Canada are fairly well known. In an age where healthcare costs are rapidly spiralling out of the control, governments will soon be unable to ignore the problem. They will be forced to choose between pouring ever more dollars into public healthcare at the expense of other programs, or deal with massive disruptions and shortcomings in the provision of public healthcare services. Neither option seems acceptable.

The aforementioned speakers seemed to be in broad agreement that the only acceptable solution to the problem was to radically rethink healthcare delivery in Canada, a revolution in which ICT will have to play a leading role. By improving the way that information is collected, organized, and disseminated, new technologies will enable both a dramatic increase in the effectiveness and efficiency of acute care (both the largest and fastest growing portion of healthcare costs), as well as allowing for a shift in the way healthcare is delivered, easing the burden on the expensive acute care system. For instance, the use of genetic information will allow healthcare professionals to educate patients about how best to take control of their own healthcare, allowing more proactive prevention of health problems, as opposed to reactive treatment. Remote observation systems will allow hospitals to discharge patients earlier and monitor them from home, freeing up expensive and much needed bed space. Also, the use of cloud technology will enable the breaking down of information silos between hospitals, allowing for easier exchange of information, reducing the likelihood of duplicated and unnecessary testing. Many more specific examples were discussed, too many to note here. However, the key takeaway from these discussions was that the healthcare system in Canada is way behind other industries in terms of its implementation of ICT solutions. By taking advantage of the proximity of Ontario’s strong ICT industry, there is great potential to reduce the costs of the healthcare system while vastly improving its effectiveness.

After the first panel discussion, there was a short break, providing an informal networking opportunity. I took the time to peruse the various displays. There were a number of companies showcasing innovative new medtech devices. For instance, there was the P44, a portable stepper that can be used from a chair or wheelchair, enabling seniors to conveniently exercise their legs, increasing leg strength and cardiovascular fitness, thereby decreasing the risk of falls and increasing overall health. ForceCap Technologies was displaying its new helmet technology, which significantly reduces the force of impacts over other helmet designs, while also providing indication of the force of an impact after the fact, important for diagnosis (certainly an exciting development for any sports fan who’s tired of seeing star players fall victim to serious concussions). Also on display was the HandyMetrics Corporation’s HandyAudit, a portable device for objectively measuring hand hygiene.

There were several other companies and products on display. The one thing that they all had in common was that they had successfully progressed from concept through to commercialization. The second half of the day focused chiefly on how entrepreneurs and startups can navigate this difficult transition and the different organizations that have been created to assist with this transition. The keynote speaker for this session was John Soloninka, CEO of the Health Technology Exchange (HTX), a government funded organization that assists with the development and commercialization of medical devices. Mr. Soloninka discussed some of the most harrowing obstacles facing entrepreneurs in the medtech industry and how to assist entrepreneurs in surmounting these obstacles. He was followed by a panel discussion featuring representatives from various government funded initiatives designed to assist entrepreneurs with product development and commercialization, including the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE), the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP, a part of the National Research Council of Canada), HTX, and MaRS. They discussed the various options available for entrepreneurs seeking advice and funding.

A key theme of this latter half of the day was the importance of entrepreneurs to the growth of industry in Ontario and the ensuing need to support them at critical points of their growth. It became clear from the discussions that a good idea is insufficient to guarantee successful commercialization. Many companies, having received support from research institutions to develop technologies, are unable to successfully bring them to market, due largely in part to problems such as a lack of funding, connections, and business savvy. Without support, it is not uncommon for entrepreneurs to fail, regardless of the quality of their ideas and research. The various organizations to which the speakers belonged were created to solve this problem. These organizations provide funding, business advice, and networking opportunities that help entrepreneurs make the leap from successful research to commercialization. It is interesting to note that many of the aforementioned organizations provide little funding. Much more important was the assistance in developing a business plan and fostering of connections, enabling entrepreneurs more ready access to private capital.

To close out the day, the panel was followed by Dr. Darin Graham, President and CEO of ORION, a non-profit corporation that operates a super high speed fibre optic network connecting researchers across Ontario. He briefly described the network and its origins and provided an update on the progress of recent upgrades to the network’s reach and capacity. The creation of good research has not historically been a problem in Ontario, and the upgrades to ORION, connecting researchers across the province at blindingly fast speeds (apparently fast enough to download the entire iTunes library in a matter of seconds), will further assist researchers to collaborate effectively and continue generating solid research and, with the help of HTX, ONE, and other organizations, fostering growth and innovation down the line.

To conclude, I very much enjoyed the opportunity to attend MedEdge. The various topics of discussion are of interest to those beyond the medtech industry. The successful development of these technologies will be essential to the sustainability of an effective and affordable public healthcare system. In addition, in an era where the traditional manufacturing sector is in decline in Ontario, the high tech sector, and entrepreneurs in particular, will be an important source of economic growth going forward. Thus, it is critically important that entrepreneurs received all the help they can get in bringing their innovations to market successfully. Osgoode is doing its part. In partnership with the OCE, IP Osgoode’s Innovation Clinic will soon open its doors. It is something I am very excited to be a part of.