I just returned from Philadelphia where I attended a regional gathering of health information technology (IT) executives and medical officers discussing the implications of the HITECH Act in today’s economic reality. HITECH is a keystone of healthcare reform in the United States. It includes financial incentives for health IT to strike the right balance between the triple aim of health: care, quality and cost.

It was an unglamorous gathering of a broad range of healthcare professionals: IT professionals stressing out about the new Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and oncology practice managers figuring out how to provide care to patients while dealing with disruptive technologies.

To see a colourful visual debrief, check out the HITECH2013 Twitter feed for photos of a painting by Regina Holliday, a patient advocate and the event’s onsite artist and keynote speaker.

Painting by @ReginaHolliday posted by @mcamp41

While there is a lot of talk about patient engagement as the “blockbuster drug” of the century, the  truth is that patients want what they perceive to be the best care available (for example, “Give me the MRI test now”) while front-line providers have the difficult job of metering the right care based on empathy and understanding.

Thus, patient-caregiver partnerships need to develop and digital health technologies must somehow play a positive role in supporting these partnerships. I think that new companies will deliver these tools simply because legacy products are built with a mindset that the “patient” is merely a vessel to which you can attach billing codes.

Here are three ways in which digital health technologies can support patient-caregiver partnerships:

Idea 1: Bring in designers to make patients a core part of the care team.

In the patient-clinician partnership, the patient acts a reporter. Can you imagine a range of apps that would enable patients to report on specific episodes of care?

Idea 2: Understand the patient experience and care pathway.

Quoting Judy Murphy, a registered nurse and deputy national co-ordinator for program and policy at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology:

“Technology has laid the groundwork for better patient care and workflow, but Stage 2 of meaningful use has given interoperability efforts a ‘kick in the pants.’ Although there is a strong business case for it, it’s been more difficult to execute than expected.”

Why? There are many reasons, but users and buyers are prepared to see beyond the current barriers if your solution is truly relevant to them. Delegates at the HITECH 2013 symposium were most impressed with “made-in-Canada” solutions that captured operational, clinical and personal needs in the context of a defined care pathway.

For example, eShift, developed by Sensory Technologies, hit it out of the park on all value dials important to providers in any healthcare system.

Communication is central to health and care. Dave Chase, a contributor to Forbes, builds a cogent case for communication as the hottest “device” in health and as our main tool for getting the full value from the mega-IT investments that are spurred by healthcare reform.

Idea 3: “It is far easier to recognize natural stupidity than develop AI.”

This quote from Dr. Zahid Butt made my day. Snarky comments aside, it’s about learning how to use small data. It is clear that small data can be more cost effective on the front lines of care and that it gives substance to interoperability efforts and, ultimately, better care. Digital health innovators need to work closely with healthcare providers to measure things that are aligned with clinical and operational workflows.

Big opportunities for Canadian digital health companies

Although I only observed a sample size of six Canadian digital health companies over three days of intense business discussions, it is clear that there are many business opportunities in this sector.

Our mini-roadshow, made possible with support from the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP), was organized by Vincent Finn, the Canadian trade commissioner in Philadelphia, who truly sees the fit between the market needs in the United States and validated products emerging out of the robust innovation ecosystem in Canada.

Veronika Litinski

Veronika Litinski provides advisory services to entrepreneurs and high growth companies, with a special focus on life sciences markets, specializing in corporate finance and business development. See more…