I would like to give a short personal history of my experiences leading up to June 7, 2012, when the MaRS Health IT Innovation Forum will launch, because I believe they will help people understand the goals and significance of this event.

I started my career as a bioengineer and medical physics technician at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, England, in the 1970s. If I needed a piece of equipment, I simply went to the purchasing department, filled out a form and bought it! As part of a team of three, including my professor, I evaluated the first real-time ECG analysis and monitoring systems for the Coronary Care Unit. It took us just six months from idea to acquisition.Fast-forward 25 years

I was leading Intel’s healthcare business in the United Kingdom, witnessing the pain of trying to deploy a nationwide electronic patient record system and starting to socialize the idea of the “business value” of information technology in healthcare and technology to allow people to receive care in their homes. I also sat on the NHS Mobility board, when mobile point of care was at 12% penetration.

During this time, I was also a caregiver to sick and ultimately dying parents and in-laws, both in Canada and in the UK, and I saw how both those processes worked (and failed). When I moved back to Canada, I was fortunate to help McKesson evaluate and implement the launch of visual control technology to help patient flow.

During this year-and-a-half, I spoke to C-suite members, directors, nurses and clinicians, as well as staff from operations, catering, pharma, laboratory and housekeeping departments from a number of urban and rural hospitals. I saw tired sales executives going through year-and-a-half-long processes to sell IT, only to fall at the final hurdle as the C-suite shifted priorities because of emergencies or budget cuts. Through these experiences, I came to the following conclusions (though I don’t claim to be the first) that I believe are facts in Ontario.

Ontario today – The facts as I see them

Fact. No. 1: It’s really hard to find anyone in the Ontario healthcare system who isn’t working as hard as they possibly can.

Fact No. 2: By and large, patients and their family members are frustrated with their experiences with the healthcare system (which is very sad).

Fact No. 3: The demand on the Ontario healthcare system will double in the next 30 years and there is no more money to throw at the problem.Fact No. 4: The exploitation of leading-edge information technology (IT) to provide nationwide consumer-plus-business value and to reduce cost in the industry sector is at least 10 years ahead of healthcare. (Banking IT for online banking versus Healthcare IT patient records…15 years)

Fact No. 5: There are many passionate, brilliant change-makers in and outside of the healthcare system who—despite the limitations of finance, policy and time—manage to make dramatic local improvements, but there is no system-wide mechanism to scale their innovations in other institutions.

Fact No. 6: Because of procurement policy and the siloed nature of the healthcare system, it is difficult for entrepreneurs and industry to sell new technology effectively.

Fact No. 7: It is not just the healthcare system that is trying to improve healthcare in Canada. Industry, academia, government and the public are also on the mission, but the siloed system prevents the co-ordination and exploitation of this vast unused talent.

Fast-forward another year to life at MaRS

The DNA of MaRS is focused on helping entrepreneurs move transformational ideas into commercial reality, supported by a collaboration of academia, industry, finance, law, government and over 100 expert volunteers.

In counselling entrepreneurs, we deal with the “big elephants” in the room on a daily basis. Avoidance of key systemic issues can spell failure very quickly in this environment. MaRS is the land of “facing reality now” and of creation, education, real-time strategy, agility and selfless collaboration. It is crowded, with no room for superegos.

When I joined MaRS, I helped my colleague Veronika Litinski in developing a consortium for innovation acceleration in long-term care. We had passionate support from sector leaders, but many of the big problems (and opportunities) were ones of integration with the rest of the healthcare system.

The MaRS Health IT Innovation Forum – Driven by actions and outcomes

When Tom Closson was CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA), we met and discussed the idea of the MaRS Health IT Innovation Forum as an action-and-outcome-driven place where we could network among the total resources of the bigger ecosystem, support the change-makers to accelerate the adoption and scaling of innovation, and sustain it by leveraging leading-edge social business networking technology supported by MaRS.

Tom had few words! He said that the forum was a good idea and that he would personally support us through the launch. The fact that he was retiring from the OHA during this time is exemplary of the passion of a healthcare leader still committed to helping make life better for those in the future.

Since then, we at MaRS have been overwhelmed by support from all the sector leaders who have collaborated with us and joined us on this exciting journey.

The Forum – Over 130 leaders tackling issues in the healthcare system

Coming to MaRS on June 7, we now have over 130 executive leaders and innovators from the Ontario healthcare system, industry, academia and government, as well as entrepreneurs and patient experts—not to hear speeches, but to work together in the entrepreneurial environment using design-thinking methodology to tackle the foremost identified problems:

  • How do we accelerate the adoption of innovation and scale it through the system?
  • How do we create a seamless patient journey?

This is just the beginning, so stay tuned!

Peter Adams

Peter is a senior executive leader in technology business development with experience spanning bioengineering, sales and marketing management, entrepreneurship, consulting and general management. He now spends most of his time as a Senior Advisor in Health IT at MaRS, but has also worked with semiconductors, systems, IT services, healthcare IT, instruments and therapeutics in the UK, Europe, USA and Canada. See more…