Ottawa’s tech revival boosted by innovation in health

CHEO Surgeons and Anesthesiologists talking innovation

Nearly two decades after the dot-com bubble burst, devastating the high-tech sector in Ottawa, the city is rebuilding its reputation as centre for innovation. And while start-ups like Shopify and PageCloud drive the technology revival in Ottawa, along with key institutions like IBM— the partnership between Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) and Hacking Health demonstrates the health sector is also an important part of the city’s culture of innovation.

“What makes Ottawa unique is everyone who is in the sandbox,” said Zuhaib Mir, a volunteer from Hacking Health. “There’s CHEO, the Ottawa Hospital, and many others. Ottawa is one of the few places in Canada that uses iPads in clinical settings. That’s huge.”

Mir addressed a room of surgeons and anesthesiologists at CHEO, who came together for a Grand Rounds presentation on finding innovative approaches to integrating technology into healthcare. Many were wearing scrubs, scheduled for surgery after the presentation.

CHEO Research Institute Grand Rounds on April 13th 2016

Dr. Matthew Bromwich emphasized the importance of carving out the space to act on ideas. “We all get great ideas in the shower. The question is what you do when you get out of the shower — is there a place to cultivate your idea and implement it?”

The CHEO-Hacking Health partnership, working with Impact Hub Ottawa and volunteers from IBM, is providing a platform for healthcare professionals to explore their ideas on improving healthcare. The initiative provides a “sandbox,” an environment where healthcare professionals and technologists can come together to find solutions to healthcare.

Given the high-stakes nature of meeting patients’ health needs, it’s rare to have low-risk opportunities to experiment. Yet, as Dr. Bromwich and Mir pointed out, Ottawa is at the leading edge of healthcare innovation. CHEO and The Ottawa Hospital (TOH) alone have found many creative solutions to healthcare problems, such as the ImmunizeCA vaccination app, the MindMasters 2 app, and the Better Outcomes Registry & Network (BORN).

In Ottawa, this innovation extends beyond the walls of health institutions to companies such as Clearwater Clinical. Founded by Dr. Bromwich, Clearwater combines medical, technical and entrepreneurial expertise to use mobile technology to improve healthcare.

Dr. Bromwich discussing the value of CHEO’s innovation platform

“There is an immense amount of clinical and technological creativity and expertise within the Ottawa community,” said Mitchell Kutney of CHEO’s Connected Care team. “We are bringing that knowledge together to create lasting solutions to persistent problems that doctors, administrators and patients face on a daily basis.”

While the CHEO-Hacking Health initiative was launched only last month, its success so far is a testament to Ottawa’s appetite for innovation. Last week, despite an unexpected snowstorm, a Design Thinking session hosted at IBM brought together more than 50 professionals from CHEO, the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI) and other organizations.

“It is exciting to see such great commitment and engagement from clinicians, staff, and the technology community, in CHEO’s innovation platform,” said Deryl Rasquinha, Vice President at Champlain Community Care Access Centre. “Bringing clinical experts together with technologists to quickly move ideas to working solution prototypes will undoubtedly help expedite innovations at CHEO, and help tap into the wealth of ideas from clinicians to better serve CHEO patients.”

Next up for the initiative is an event with technologists in May, before bringing healthcare professionals together with engineers, entrepreneurs, designers and more. The series of events will culminate in an innovation weekend to create beta prototypes to solve identified problems.

“With CHEO, we have the space to implement the prototypes that come out of it. We’ll be able to test them and hopefully use them in the long-term,” said Mir.

That’s all part and parcel of the thriving culture of innovation in Ottawa — and how the health sector is contributing to it.

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