Snowstorm can’t dampen enthusiasm for innovating healthcare in the National Capital Region

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night can stop Ottawa’s healthcare leaders from improving healthcare.

The record-breaking snowstorm on April 6 didn’t deter more than 50 healthcare professionals from attending the latest in a series of events to innovate health, organized by the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) and Hacking Health Ottawa.

IBM’s Design Studio, with its colourful walls and creative use of space, was the perfect venue to match the energy of the people in the room.

“It’s good to think big. But you have to start small. And you have to move fast so you don’t lose momentum,” said Dr. Matthew Bromwich, CHEO pediatrician and Chief Medical Officer at Clearwater Clinical, in his opening remarks to the crowd.

In March, CHEO and Hacking Health announced their partnership to find solutions to difficult healthcare problems. Working with Impact Hub Ottawa and volunteers from IBM, the initiative has garnered attention in Ottawa and beyond. Olympian Jennifer Heil even extended her congratulations.

The Design Thinking event on April 6 brought together pediatricians, technologists, and administrators from CHEO, the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI), IBM, and other organizations, to consider the problems within healthcare.

“It made sense to ask: how can we help with healthcare?” said Greg Adams, Director and Distinguished Engineer, IBM Cognos Analytics. “When you look at healthcare, it is ripe for innovation. What would happen if we bring a lot of people together to start creating a pool of ideas?”

Shahira Bhimani, Vice President of Innovation Services at Health Technology Exchange (HTX), visited from Toronto to highlight funding opportunities for innovative health technologies, including HTX’s own grant program, REACH.

She pointed to the Ontario government’s appointment of a Chief Health Innovation Strategist to show there is support within Ontario for ambitious health solutions. “Think disruptive. Think system impact.”

It was a room full of innovators, including Dr. Kumanan Wilson of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, who spearheaded development of the award-winning ImmunizeCA app, and Dr. Pranesh Chakraborty, who worked with Mari Teitelbaum, Vice President of Technology and Chief Information Officer at CHEO, to launch the Better Outcomes Registry & Network (BORN), which improves the health of mothers, newborns and children in Ontario.

Teitelbaum saw the Design Thinking event as a way to encourage new ideas. “We don’t often have the opportunity to step outside of the day-to-day. This is an opportunity to step into a different way of thinking.”

According to Teitelbaum, the CHEO + Hacking Health Ottawa partnership has real potential to improve care at CHEO. “This for me is a win: if we have three really good solutions make into the hospital in a year.”

Dr. Jim King, CHEO’s Medical Director of Informatics, added, “We need to become a learning organization that asks questions.”

Yasmine Taha, a user experience designer at IBM, showed the importance of asking the right questions by starting the design thinking session with two very different questions.

Taha first asked participants to design a doorbell, prompting 50 people to draw similar sketches of doorbells. She then asked them to design a way for a hearing-impaired person to know if someone was at the door. This second question received a wide range of responses, from low-tech to high-tech interventions.

“In the first example, you were given a solution: a doorbell,” said Taha. “In the second, you were presented with a problem, and it created a bigger dialogue and more diverse solutions. Focus on users, not on features.”

Participants broke into groups and considered the perspectives of different stakeholders within the healthcare system, such as a family doctor, a pediatric oncologist, and a philanthropist. They created problem statements from the perspective of each of these stakeholders, including statements and questions like:

  • Who is involved in my patient’s healthcare and how do I talk to them?
  • How do I keep up with best practices in my field?
  • I want to connect with my patient’s care team in hospital so I can be prepared to refer or take over their care.

For Haidee Thanda of Hacking Health Ottawa, it was important to begin the process with healthcare professionals because “every good solution starts with a good problem, and they’re closer to the problems.”

Future events will bring together healthcare professionals, entrepreneurs, developers, and engineers to discuss these and other problems, and begin creating solutions for them. The events will culminate in a weekend design challenge held this fall, where prototypes to solve problems will be built over 42–72 hours.

Viable solutions will have the opportunity to be taken to the next level by presenting to CHEO and other stakeholders.

“We want to set up a culture of innovating,” Dr. Bromwich told participants. “Connection between you and other people is what makes that happen.”

Be part of making it happen. Sign up here to receive updates for this exciting initiative and be the first to hear of next events.