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Innovation: a Group Effort for One Customer – The Patient

Posted By Gerry Frenette, May 9, 2017
Updated: May 9, 2017



For two days in early April, healthcare industry leaders gathered at Toronto’s International Centre for MEDEC’s sold-out 2017 MedTech Conference. The full agenda included numerous individual addresses and discussions on Innovation Adoption, Community Care, Patient Engagement, Funding Reform, and Procurement. These contributions, as well as the lively Healthcare Leader Panel, sent a clear and optimistic message: there is great openness to innovation, with a willingness on the part of all stakeholders to build the capacity needed to make it a reality.

The panel discussions – as well as presentations from health system leaders such as Bill Charnetski, Ontario’s Chief Healthcare Innovation Strategist; Justin Riemer, Assistant Deputy Minister at Alberta Health; and Dr. Joshua Tepper, President and CEO of Health Quality Ontario – were upbeat. Speakers made it evident that increasing the adoption of innovation is a group effort, with the important goal of improving patient care, while ensuring clinician engagement.

Over 400 thought-leaders attended the conference, including those who were at the separate Regulatory Affairs workshop. The dominant message of collaboration and partnerships was supported in a keynote from M. Jocelin Dumas, Deputy Minister of Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade in Quebec, who emphasized that stakeholders need to work together to pull innovation into a value-based system that delivers better care – while also saving money. To do that, procurement has to move more quickly, and shift from being a gatekeeper to an enabler.

“There can be problems with procurement when trying to solve large problems,” said Rheta Fanizza, Chief Business Officer and Senior Vice President of Innovation at Saint Elizabeth in Ontario. “We can get frustrated with RFPs that ask for very specific things. We know we could be more innovative, but we must respond according to that box. However, if we combine technology with service and financial model redesign, we can see big, bold innovation.”

Overall, the conference was notable for its breadth of geographic coverage, which gave attendees an opportunity to share information with their peers. Canada’s Maritime Provinces, Quebec, Ontario, the Prairies and British Columbia were all well-represented. As a result, participants learned that the challenges faced across Canada are remarkably similar. Each jurisdiction has distinct approaches, but the need to have stakeholder buy-in at every stage was seen as critical for the rapid scaling of innovative solutions.

“Change has to happen at all levels,” said Fanizza from Saint Elizabeth. “The front line workers have to be involved, too. Once you build that trust, then some real magic can occur.”

But there is a caveat here, because often industry and provider communities speak different languages. Industry has the luxury of being focused on technology development and adoption; meanwhile, healthcare employees are busy saving lives while being told that they are a cost centre. Often overworked, and in stressful environments, they have come to rely on trusted technologies and processes.

“The products are there to deliver on process innovation,” said Jim Hornell, President and CEO of Brant Community Healthcare System (BCHS) in Brantford, Ontario. “But it is important to understand that, when money is tight, hospitals can lack the capacity to innovate.”

This is a critical observation. While industry can be focused on innovation, the market it sells into is cost-constrained, and at times weary. Many industry participants at the conference asked providers how they could help with the adoption of innovation. The answer was to make a provider’s job easier by supporting sales arguments with data and analytics, and assuring that benchmarks are established to measure value.

In industry, disruption can often be described in glowing terms, but it often involves disturbing the daily lives of healthcare workers, who can then feel devalued. One important way to bring people onside, and to have them embrace change, is for the message to focus on the most important mutual goal – improved patient care. The conference itself reflected this shift: many patient stories were shared over the two days.

The Funding Reform panel discussion revealed that – other than in pilot programs – a high level of engagement with physicians is still lacking in Canada, which in turn presents scalability issues. A big part of the problem is that fee-for-service can be a barrier to the adoption of innovative technologies. One possible solution is a bundled or blended remuneration model that includes capitation.

Changing funding models also move the burden on industry to provide data and analytics that go beyond the intuitive. It was noted, for example, that a state-of-the art imaging system – while clearly delivering impressive results – has to be assessed in terms of overall value. If it cannot be proven that a technology delivers on process improvement, the adoption of a technology will be harder to acheive. Industry speakers supported this view.

“Canada has a risk averse culture – there is safety in the status quo and incremental improvement,” said Heather Chalmers, General Manager at GE Healthcare Canada. “We need to redefine what innovation is to include process and business model innovation, to be broad in terms of how we measure and value things. We need value-based procurement with risk-sharing agreements, and bundled payment models that transcend traditional silos.”

However, for partnerships to work they need to be committed to the same outcomes. It is not taboo to tie improved patient care with cost reduction, yet this is a cultural shift that has yet to be fully embraced by many provider organizations. The good news? There’s increased recognition and willingness on the provider side to partner with industry, and for that to be part of a renewed focus on efficiency and innovation.

“We appreciate the value that MEDEC is placing on forging partnerships,” said Tracy Kitch, President and CEO of the IWK Health Centre in Nova Scotia. “We now have ten industry partners, and are focusing on being more nimble.”

It was clear that this sentiment was shared throughout the conference and that this is the direction in which we need to be heading, with the medical technology industry acting as an important enabler of positive change within our health system.


MEDEC would like to thank:

• The MedTech Conference and Regulatory Workshop planning committees and particularly the respective planning committee Chairs, Paul Bradley and Massoma Haidry, for making these events a reality.

• All of the attendees – we appreciate all of the feedback we received from the post-conference survey and we hope to see you again next year!

• Conference sponsors – Kuehne + Nagel, Stericycle, Mapi Group, Medtronic Canada, BSI Group, Commport Communications, Emergo Group

• Conference exhibitors

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MEDEC is the national association representing the medical technology industry in Canada. Our members are committed to providing safe and innovative medical technologies that enhance the quality of patient care, improve patient access to health care, and help enable the sustainability of our publicly-funded health care system. We are committed to supporting the growth of a strong and vibrant medical technology industry that contributes to Canada’s innovation economy.

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