Digital Healthcare Is Imperative, say Vancouver Market Leaders

The Canadian medical system readies itself for a data revolution.

September 29, 2015

By Graham Templeton

Five of the city’s top healthcare innovators gathered at the Launch Pad last Wednesday for Vancouver Startup Week, and an eventful panel on the future of digital health. The consensus: the keys to success in tomorrow’s healthcare industry are data, data, and more data.

Brendan Byrne, Chief Innovation Officer at Telus Digital Health, told the audience that the sheer volume of information doctors can now generate about patients is enormous, but it’s in putting that info to use that healthcare startups should look for success (the communications firm has been open about their shift in focus towards digital healthcare, investing over $1.5-billion in the health field since 2000). Doctors and caregivers can now collect a patient’s full genetic sequence, map the synaptic connections in their brain, and even document the tiny universe of bacterial species in their digestive system — but all that raw data is useless if it can’t be understood and put to work in the real world.

That’s where the digital health innovations of tomorrow come in. How do you put all this insight to work for the patient and, perhaps more importantly, how do you get the patient to cooperate with your proposed solutions?

CEO Sarah Goodman, of the health tracking startup VitalSines, said her company is considering everything from 24/7 data collection to an open “bio-app marketplace” in an attempt to find that all-important bridge between data and patient. Vancouver startup Ayogo is trying to integrate healthcare with the principles of games and online competition, in an attempt to do the same.

Byrne said that everybody, from brand new entrants to large corporations like Telus itself, can see that a flood of powerful new digital health initiatives could be just a few key innovations away. Anyone could be the source of those innovations, so the only real question is who will be the first to adequately invest in developing those world-changing ideas.

The group identified two major barriers to Canadian health startups: funding, and consumer trust. It’s a simple reality of the modern Canadian market that most of the truly lucrative deals must be made either in Toronto or the United States, and the panel strongly agreed that any foray into healthcare will require a hefty budget for international flights.

As to privacy, the group’s opinions were mixed. Byrne and others said that in an age of high-profile data breaches, it’s inherently difficult to get patients to trust a digital service provider with such sensitive information. On the other hand, Curtis Duggan of Blue Mesa Health said that much of the information healthcare providers find most important, like blood sugar or resting heartrate, is not seen as particularly private information.

All speakers could agree on one thing, however: once people can actually see the benefits of digital health all around them, the most troublesome objections will quickly begin to fall away.

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From left: Curtis Duggan – CEO – Blue Mesa Health; Brendan Byrne – Chief Innovation Officer – Telus Health; Michael Fergusson – CEO – Ayogo; Richard Osborn – Managing Partner – Recap Health Ventures; Sarah Goodman – CEO – VitalSines.

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