Before his presentation at MaRS, Alain Champagne, president of McKesson Canada, a global supply chain and healthcare services company, was introduced as a “silo buster with a passion for health, building on the past and preparing for the future.”

So what does the future of healthcare mean to McKesson? It means positioning the company as a lab for innovation. It means learning from the reports of Roy Romanow, Michael Drummond and David Naylor, while also acknowledging that the era of report-writing is over and that it is now the time for action.

In his talk, Alain used a series of case studies to demonstrate what is currently happening in healthcare and what could happen in the future if we make better use of technology, put the patient at the centre and better coordinate and integrate our various healthcare systems.

In Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, for example, McKesson used telecare to tackle a significant healthcare challenge: diabetes, a disease that currently takes up 3.5% of our healthcare dollars. The company provided 24-7 one-on-one home and mobile care through the use of personal coaches. The results: 50% of participants lost weight and 50% better managed their own blood sugar levels. The greatest success was patients’ adherence to their care plans, with over 80% of participants rating the experience as outstanding.

So what does the future of healthcare mean to McKesson? It means positioning the company as a lab for innovation.
So what does the future of healthcare mean to McKesson? It means positioning the company as a lab for innovation.

In addition to easing the burden of chronic disease, there are also great opportunities for improvements and cost savings in emergency departments. Through the use of real-time data we can dramatically improve the experiences of those patients who make up Canada’s 10 million emergency department visits per year (and who spend an average of 12 hours waiting in emergency before a decision to admit is reached).

For instance, through the use of smart data, the Southlake Regional Health Centre has been able to provide the right care in the right setting at the right time, clearing log jams and providing real-time patient flows. This has led to an 11% decline in visits to the emergency department and, more impressively, a 50% decline in visits for those presenting with mental health issues.

Next up? Another goal is to take advantage of patients’ smartphones to ensure that their decisions are based on the same information that is provided to their medical team.

If we all agree that we need to make these types of changes to our healthcare system and that they would result in better health outcomes and cost savings, why aren’t they happening? Because the barriers are real: they include siloed systems with no connections and no integration.

According to Alain, to address these barriers we need to create enabling platforms that make use of legacy systems while also planning for the long term. We also need to change existing funding cycles and secure buy-in from physicians. These tasks are not easy, but they are possible.

In the question-and-answer period after his talk Alain was asked about McKesson’s interest in startups. He indicated that the company has created a new venture capital fund to capitalize on the upstream trends.

He was also asked whether there are pockets of innovation in Canada and whether he’s encouraged by the new federal government. Alain responded that he feels confident that there are centres of excellence, like Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. He is also optimistic about the signals he sees coming out of Ottawa and, while it is still early, he is hopeful that we can open up the funding wedge between provincial and federal governments.

What about the federal government’s interest in bulk purchasing opportunities, which will be a hit to McKesson’s bottom line? Alain acknowledged that this will be a big challenge given that McKesson provides distribution services for one in every six prescriptions in Canada. But saving 10% on the cost of drugs is easy, he said, it’s the focus on the other 90% of savings that can only be addressed if we tackle things more systematically.

Ultimately, we need to get beyond our individual industry priorities to increase our effectiveness and engage new players, like pharmacists. Enabling pharmacists to administer flu shots, for example, makes sense not only because they are in close contact with patients, but also because they are systematically rated the most trusted of healthcare providers. The good news is that physicians are now open to this kind of action.

Leadership is required and, thankfully, McKesson acknowledges that it is not up to government alone. Alain believes that industry needs to step up because it is better at taking risks. He says we can expect more competition in the form of trade agreements and other challenges, but he feels that Canada is well positioned because we have partnerships, such as those between MaRS and industry. For example, McKesson was a key partner on the MaRS HealthKick event and Zayna Khayat, MaRS’ lead on health systems innovation, is one of the company’s Edisons, gurus who are called upon for its global innovation program.

That is, in fact, the answer: multi-sectoral engagement that brings key players together with the end user—in this case, the patient—at the centre. With this approach, any challenges will soon fall behind those bent on creating a better, more cost-effective system for us all.

Allyson Hewitt

Allyson is the JW McConnell Family Foundation Senior Fellow, Social Innovation at MaRS, where she has been leading the SiG@MaRS program; advising social entrepreneurs; building the social innovation ecosystem; and incubating successful programs such as the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, the MaRS Solutions Lab and Studio Y. See more…