Alberta’s Health Tech Industry: A Product of Data, Digital Disruption and Collaboration
- Alberta’s wealth of health data, its health sciences talent pool, its growing expertise in AI as well as the convergence and collaboration of its sectors make it competitive in the health technology sector.
- Consumer-specific health care technology and the drive toward precision medicine will define the future of Alberta and Canada’s healthcare ecosystems.
- Health technology, health information technology and biotechnology are the most promising areas of innovation within Alberta’s health sector.
Alberta has started on the right foot by connecting the various stakeholders of its health and life sciences sector. However, it can do more to incentivize convergence and collaboration between these entities in order to drive technology innovation that contributes to healthy communities.
How will digitization disrupt our healthcare services and supply chains? How is this transformation being pushed forward in Alberta?
Digitization and technology are driving the advancement of the health tech sector. The global healthcare landscape is changing rapidly with digital technology being integrated into the everyday delivery of health services. I see personalized and precision medicine creating the inflection point in evidence-based medicine. We can increasingly rely on evidence from a number of different technologies that are very specific to the individual rather than populations. Obviously, there is a lot of work that is still required to appropriately analyze, understand and validate the vast and diverse amounts of data in Alberta for the purposes of prevention, accurate diagnosis and optimal management of chronic conditions. But Alberta is very fortunate to have excellent universities, Alberta Health Services, the Ministry of Health, Alberta Innovates and private sector entities that are all working toward a common goal. Alberta’s shared vision is to increase the available health technologies and health information technologies that are going to transform our healthcare systems over the next 10 to 20 years.
“Alberta’s shared vision is to increase the available health technologies and health information technologies that are going to transform our healthcare systems over the next 10 to 20 years.”
I think we are actually at a very interesting transition point in Alberta. Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services have created robust health analytics environments. Most people do not even realize that Alberta Health has an interactive healthcare data website through which it allows open access to select, aggregate health data sets. Alberta Health Services, in partnership with Alberta Health, continually analyzes key indicators to measure the success of Alberta’s healthcare system. Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services continue to collaborate with Alberta Innovates’ data platforms supporting strategic patient outcomes research. Moreover, Alberta also has entities like the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii), affiliated with the University of Alberta, driving additional opportunities in innovation. We are going to see greater convergence and collaboration in Alberta in order to increase the efficiency of our healthcare system and improve patient outcomes through the use of advanced technology.
What are Alberta’s main health stakeholders – public sector, the private sector, health practitioners and individuals themselves – doing to support this ongoing transition towards a digitized healthcare system?
Let us talk about a couple of the main parties that really drive our healthcare system. Obviously, we have Alberta Health Services, the Ministry of Health and the innovation entities, but we cannot forget about the consumer who is at the center. Changes within primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare systems are being complemented by a growing consumer-health movement. This consumer-based movement is really about enabling patients, families, caregivers and members of the public to have access to their own health information, to find current, reliable and accessible health content, and to actively participate in decisions regarding their own wellness, illness, injury management and treatment options.
“We are going to see greater convergence and collaboration in Alberta in order to increase the efficiency of our healthcare system and improve patient outcomes through the use of advanced technology.”
Patient-facing technologies are at the center, reflecting the impact of the new ecosystem of self-monitoring and decision support devices that are going to increase health literacy in Alberta and in Canada overall. These technologies will change the expectations that we as Albertans have around the quality of care that we expect from our health system. Moreover, electronic health records systems that operate across the continuum of care in Alberta play a significant role. Alberta Health Services has recently announced a significant agreement with U.S.-based Epic Systems Corp. The company’s clinical information system will support a number of the healthcare domains across the continuum of care in Alberta. Lastly, the Ministry of Health is working on the personal health record, which will allow Albertans access to their own health information and the ability to upload information from devices, some of which are home-grown in Alberta.
How competitive would you say Alberta’s heath and life sciences sector is in North America, and what factors are driving this competitiveness?
I think Alberta is incredibly competitive in health and life sciences. We are very fortunate to have created the ecosystem and the level of collaboration between major health entities like Alberta Health, Alberta Health Services and Alberta Innovates. In addition, Edmonton Health City, which is a not-for-profit, is trying to create a collaborative model of health innovation between private and public healthcare providers and the economic and technology sectors in Edmonton. Our specialized hospitals and strong network of post-secondary institutions also participate quite actively in health technology innovation. For instance, TEC Edmonton and pharmaceutical giants like Merck Canada are partnering to create a business incubator connected to Alberta’s burgeoning health sector, along with the University of Alberta.
“Changes within primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare systems are being complemented by a growing consumer-health movement.”
Talent is another key factor. Alberta has had a very robust talent base with respect to health technologies and health information technologies for many years. At the national level, there is a lot of talent in Canada with respect to both health technology and health information technology – which are different. In terms of health information technology, entities like Canada Health Infoway have driven investments in health information technologies across the country, making Canada one of the leading countries globally in driving digital healthcare. We have also complemented that with health informatics programs at the post-secondary level and we are continuing to drive health analytics and data engineering programs out of some of our universities so that we are graduating talent.
When we look from an investment perspective, not just in Alberta but across Canada, there are a surprising number of forces driving increased interest in late-stage investing. So while we have been talking about health services, biotech continues to be strong in this regard, with a focus on disruption in things like the fight against cancer. Alberta is fortunate to have the Alberta Cancer Legacy Prevention Fund (ACPLF), which continues to drive innovative investments in cancer prevention research and looks to bridge some of the silos that other jurisdictions experience in cancer research.
“Health technologies that will enable us to monitor our health at home, gain insight into our health status and take immediate action – potentially in collaboration with a provider – will grow.”
I am excited about the changes and the investments that we are making in relation to health information technology, which are going to drive patient engagement. They are also going to drive provider engagement and allow us to construct emerging models of care that are based on appropriate team-based care. We will be able to reduce costs in the healthcare system by making sure that we have the right mix of professionals providing the right support to the patient.
To sum up, our existing talent pool and the global changes we are seeing in relation to healthcare are now driving further investment into the health tech sector in Alberta. And the significant technological disruption the sector is experiencing is also leading to the growth of the province’s healthcare sector.
Which consumer market trends will impact Alberta’s healthcare system the most and represent the best opportunities for investment and growth?
Consumer health is one of the areas that technology companies in Alberta should be incredibly excited about, especially with respect to home monitoring equipment. A large portion of our population is aging, we also have individuals who are dealing with chronic conditions and we have a healthy level of the population that is focused on preserving its wellness. All of those consumers will have an interest in wearable health technologies and home monitoring devices that allow us to generate our own health information and share it with our providers. Health information technologies that support virtual care interaction are also driven by consumer demands to have access to health services outside of traditional institutional settings. Health technologies that will enable us to monitor our health at home, gain insight into our health status and take immediate action – potentially in collaboration with a provider – will grow. These are major trends that tech companies in Alberta should be very excited about, and that I think venture capital investors have already demonstrated interest in.
How do you envision Alberta’s future economy in 2050?
The energy and agriculture industries are, and will continue to be, very important for Alberta’s economy, but I think health technology, health information technology and biotech are important sectors of the future innovation economy. Our ability to balance healthcare with sustainable communities and a healthy environment are what Albertans are all about. I think all of our sectors, including energy, agriculture, municipal government, infrastructure and healthcare are all, right now, driving towards that common goal of healthy Albertans in healthy, sustainable and liveable communities.
“The energy and agriculture industries are, and will continue to be, very important for Alberta’s economy, but I think health technology, health information technology and biotech are important sectors of the future innovation economy.”
When we look at Alberta’s economy out to 2050, I think convergence and collaboration will be the two words that describe what our future state looks like. We will be squarely focused on driving innovation from a healthy, integrated and connected community perspective. Alberta has started laying the foundation for this vision of the future but we still have some work to do.