Making Canada a leader in health care, again

September 22, 2015

Investment in health research makes Canada healthier, wealthier and smarter. The discovery of innovative new treatments leads to improved health outcomes and a greater quality of life for patients. Academic medicine and health research are major contributors to Canada’s knowledge economy, producing a source of renewable, high quality jobs.

“While improvements in health care and system efficiency come from a strong health research sector, researchers are experiencing substantial problems with continuity of funding and the time required to navigate a disjointed system,” said Dr. David Hill, Scientific Director, Lawson Health Research Institute. “Many innovations of proven worth are not systematically scaled up and spread across the nation.”

On September 16, members of the community and several political candidates from local federal electoral ridings joined Lawson for a Café Scientifique event on Making Canada a leader in health care, again. A panel of Lawson researchers discussed these challenges and how to better support health research and innovation. Through an open-forum discussion, guests asked questions, participated in discussion, and gained insights from the speakers, as well as from one another.

Staged innovation in orthopaedics: Is it better?” by Dr. Matthew Teeter

Joint replacement is one of the most successful surgeries ever developed, and is the only treatment option to remove pain and restore function to patients with advanced arthritis. Unfortunately, in a quest for even better outcomes, new implants have been introduced with flaws that have led to abnormally high device failure rates.

“A staged model for the introduction of new devices, first evaluated in small numbers of patients using powerful, predictive imaging technology, would ensure that only safe, effective implants are approved for the health care system,” explained Dr. Teeter.

A national registry of all surgeries and types of devices can be used to track trends and identify potential problems, with a surveillance system to examine explanted devices from revision surgery to determine why they failed. “This vision is slowly becoming reality, providing Canadians with effective innovations and allowing us to translate this knowledge to the world.”

“Moving from research to practice: Understanding urgency and time” by Dr. Cheryl Forchuk

There is often a contrast of urgency to resolve a health issue compared to the slow process of research. A multitude of funding agencies and the related submission process add to the problem. Policy changes in a variety of arenas can have severe unintended health implications.

“As an example, housing has been downloaded from the federal to provincial and, in Ontario, to the municipal level. Canada is the only industrialized nation that does not have housing at the federal level. This has created a homelessness problem in Canada that is particularly acute in Ontario,” noted Dr. Forchuk.  

People with mental illness have been disadvantaged by the policy changes. Research to develop interventions have been successful despite the policy issues, but the slow spread of the interventions still leaves many people vulnerable.

“Personalized medicine for all Canadians: Vision, partnerships and targeted investment” by Dr. Richard Kim

“The cost of drug therapy is increasing at an unsustainable pace. As Canada’s population continues to age, complex drug therapy, as well as associated adverse events, will further add to the overall cost to our health care system,” said Dr. Kim. “There is a major need to improve drug therapy.” In 2008, Dr. Kim’s team was the first in Canada to start a personalized medicine clinic in London, Ontario and they are now utilizing on-demand genomics technologies for the care of patients at London Health Sciences Centre.

They have demonstrated that this approach is feasible and adoptable. However, a major hurdle that must be overcome is the need for large scale, real-world implementation of the approach at other centres throughout the region and nationally. This would truly demonstrate the scalability, cost-effectiveness, and adoptability of the personalized medicine-based patient care model.

In order to accomplish such a task, Canada needs a coordinated and sustained funding strategy, particularly at a national level, for enabling innovations to become widely utilized as a part of excellent health care. “We see great potential for investment in innovative health care approaches such as ours for net gain in economic activity and benefit through the creation of highly qualified personnel, new technologies, and cost savings derived from reduction in health care utilization.”

See more photos from the event on Lawson’s Facebook page.

guests at Cafe Scientifique

Café Scientifique speakers Drs. Richard Kim, Cheryl Forchuk and Matthew Teeter with moderator Dr. David Hill.