Charting a new course in healthcare

Charting a new course in healthcare

Toronto-based Think Research gives medical professionals digital tools that let them instantly access up-to-date best practices

Time and resources are in shorter and shorter supply for many healthcare professionals — especially as health systems strain under the weight of increased demand. But Sachin Aggarwal believes data and digital software can help bridge some of those gaps. “Healthcare is a hard area and it’s getting harder,” he says. “The amount of information doctors, nurses and pharmacists must consume and then apply to patients is growing exponentially.”

Aggarwal is the CEO of Think Research, a Toronto-based company that provides doctors and nurses with up-to-date knowledge and standards for clinical best practices, allowing them to keep pace with the rapidly shifting landscape. Founded in 2006 by critical care physician Chris O’Connor, Think Research began by updating some of the daily processes of ICU care for the 21st century, offering digital checklists to replace handwritten orders and reduce the likelihood of errors. More than a decade later, the cloud-based service has expanded its purview beyond the ICU to support providers across the spectrum of healthcare, from oncologists to pharmacists to long-term care workers.

Here, Aggarwal shares his views on how technology will help shape healthcare in the future and how doctors and nurses can keep up with rapid scientific breakthroughs.

Can you walk me through the services Think Research provides?

We are a top provider of medical education for doctors and nurses. To keep up to date in their practice, they must take a certain number of accredited courses a year, and we’re a provider of choice for those. We also provide workflows. Let’s say you go to your primary care doctor and need a referral to a specialist. There might be certain protocols or standards that the doctor must follow before making that referral — we would tell them exactly what to do.

We also put new evidence and new information into the hands of those clinicians so they can practice up-to-date medicine. Our mission is to organize the world’s health knowledge so everyone gets the best care.

I imagine COVID illustrated why these kinds of resources are so necessary.

The pandemic really opened the eyes of the whole health system and governments and patients to the need for knowledge-based solutions that make the lives of doctors and nurses easier. Most people didn’t really have an appreciation of how quickly medicine was changing until COVID. Then they saw in real time how the knowledge surrounding one virus changed almost daily. Think about extrapolating that to thousands of other diseases and conditions. Knowledge is rapidly changing with respect to all of those as well.

You studied biochemistry and then got a law degree and MBA. How does your background come together at Think Research?

I’m not a healthcare practitioner but I speak the language of science, and I have some history in knowledge translation. Healthcare is a highly regulated field and you must take many privacy considerations into account — my background in law certainly helps there. And, of course, with the MBA you learn how to be a bit of an entrepreneur. I’ve been able to pull all those pieces together in what I’m doing today.

One of the founders of Think Research was a critical care doctor. What issues did the company originally hope to address?

Critical care was a natural place to start. If you’re a critical care patient, there are many things wrong with you and it’s hard for doctors to keep all those things in their heads. Keeping that knowledge current was a real problem in critical care. That’s why our knowledge-based checklists and protocols made a lot of sense in that area. Our solutions worked to improve the lives of patients; they reduced the cost of delivering care, reduced duplication and reduced errors. Then we expanded from critical care to the whole hospital. And today, we’re across many sectors. We have many, many clients in the States. We have clients in Ireland, the U.K., the Middle East. We have doctors and nurses around the globe accessing our knowledge-based solutions and our education.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

In healthcare, it takes time to adopt new solutions. A lot of time and effort goes into making decisions. They have to be careful and deliberate and it takes a lot of planning.

What are you working on now?

We are a big part of Health811, the province of Ontario’s new digital front door where you can reach a nurse by phone or online chat if you’re sick. You can also search for a care provider or get right into a virtual visit; it’s essentially a way for all patients to access the healthcare system and find the right place for their particular health needs. This fits in with our product set because it connects the needs of the patient with the part of the health system that is best suited to provide them with care.

What’s your vision for the future of healthcare?

We see a future where all doctors and nurses are connected to the latest knowledge, where they get it in their workflow, in their day-to-day practice. This is not something that they have to go out and search for; it’s readily available and is presented in an easy manner. And they can consume it very quickly, so it saves them time and energy and makes their lives easier when they’re treating patients.

MaRS commissioned photographer Jenna Marie Wakani to photograph the thinkers, entrepreneurs and investors behind some of Canada’s most exciting companies. See the full portrait series here.

Photo courtesy of Jenna Marie Wakani