Inaugural Research Day Focuses on Smart Health in Northern Ontario
Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre (the Hospital) and its research arm, the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute, are teaming up to host their first ‘Research Day’ on September 6, 2018.
Focused on “smart health” and technology as a driver of health care, the full–day event is open to the public and designed to showcase how health research is improving care for people in Northern Ontario.
“Technology can assist in overcoming several of Northwestern Ontario’s geographical and cultural barriers to care,” said Jean Bartkowiak, President and CEO of the Hospital and CEO of the Health Research Institute. “It can help us streamline and improve access to care so that we are able to provide the right care to the right person at the right time, no matter where they live in the region.”
That’s where “smart health” comes in. Smart health is an umbrella term for connected and interconnected health solutions for diagnosing, monitoring, treating and advising patients. It uses technologies such as smart phone apps, internet and even video technology in innovative ways to overcome those barriers and improve patient care.
The Health Research Institute is currently exploring how technology can bring smart health solutions to the region and to achieve the objectives of the Hospital’s Strategic Plan 2020 to contribute to a healthier, wealthier and smarter Ontario.
Indigenous health has been identified as one of the Hospital’s five key directions and is one of the directions in the Health Research Institute’s 2020 Strategic Plan. The Health Research Institute will be working with Hospital staff and others to engage Indigenous leaders and communities to learn more about the communities that the Hospital serves and their health needs. The goal is to research and develop programs and services that can be adapted to each community need and capacity. Smart health can help achieve that goal, providing opportunities to overcome the specific geographical, cultural, language and other barriers to care.
The Health Research Institute was founded on the understanding that homegrown solutions work best for a unique region such as Northwestern Ontario, where health care delivery faces a unique set of challenges. The Research Institute’s scientists and researchers attract research funding that supports homegrown projects. For example, Dr. Naana Jumah and Dr. Chris Mushquash are developing prenatal services for Indigenous mothers and increased health education for Indigenous high school students in Thunder Bay.
One of the Institute’s first steps in 2018 is to hire a smart health technology scientist with a joint appointment at Lakehead University. Many digital tools can enhance distance health and indeed most areas of health care – perhaps an overwhelming number of tools. The Institute plans to bring in an expert who can determine the best tools for the Hospital and its partners in health, and investigate how smart health technologies such as apps, sensors and other software-based solutions can be used to improve care.
Driving innovation through collaboration
While it’s still early days for smart health technology, the Research Institute plans to implement new technology over the next several years that will significantly improve patient care in the region, keeping patients closer to home.
The new venture into smart health relies on other research programs as well as academic, clinical, and community affiliates. The Institute is looking to partner with Mohawk College in Hamilton and their mHealth & eHealth Development and Innovation Centre (MEDIC) – which is itself a partnership with McMaster University – to assist in finding the right digital health solutions. By sharing resources and expertise, researchers in Thunder Bay can focus on how technology can improve health care delivery in Northwestern Ontario rather than learning to use the technology from scratch.
The Health Research Institute is also expanding its partnerships with innovators. As a member of the Council of Academic Hospitals of Ontario (CAHO), the Institute participates in CAHO’s role as an Innovation Broker, appointed by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care in 2017. Through this role, CAHO connects innovators with its member hospitals to remove barriers and bring innovations into hospitals faster, benefiting the Ontario economy and improving patient care.
These partnerships will support the Hospital’s Strategic Plan 2020 and will assist the Health Research Institute to meet its 2020 Strategic Plan Directions to fuel a Healthier, Wealthier, and Smarter future.
Thunder Bay Regional Health Science Centres is one of Ontario’s 23 academic research hospitals that contribute to a healthier, wealthier, smarter province. Look for other RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT posts on our Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter blog or join the conversation about why health research matters for Ontario on Twitter, using the hashtag #onHWS.