As a daily watcher of Star Trek, I was always more intrigued by Dr. Crusher’s portable scanners, bloodless surgeries and instant personalized therapies than by phasers or even teleporters. It seemed so futuristic to imagine a world where technologies helped afford everyone excellent healthcare even hurtling through space at warp speed.
But more and more, it seems the future is not so far away. In fact, some of these utopic technologies were highlighted in CADTH’s 2022 list of Top 10 Health Tech Trends for having the “potential to transform health systems and improve health outcomes” within the next two years. As I read up on them, I noticed: health tech isn’t just cool, it’s essential to future-proofing our healthcare system.
As someone who lives with diabetes, I’ve been blown away by the pace of technological innovation and how it continues to improve my health and day-to-day life. As a patient advocate, I have been humbled to bring the patient perspective as part of Health Canada’s Scientific Advisory Committee for Digital Health Technologies, and I’ve been inspired by the vision of my fellow panelists. Joining Hill+Knowlton Strategies as Vice President + Group Leader on its Health + Wellness team has cinched the deal: I’m an avowed health tech geek.
Every day, my colleagues and I get to work with clients in all aspects of health tech, so we see first-hand how hard they work to improve Canadians’ health, and how enormous are the opportunities to do so. I envision three key attributes of Canada’s future healthcare system that will only be fully realized with the benefit of health technologies.
1. Care delivered where people are
A silver lining (if you can call it that) of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it catapulted us toward the first of my three visions for our healthcare system going forward: bringing diagnostics and care to the people where they are. Never was it more important that care be decentralized than over the past two years. Countless Canadians benefitted from access to health apps and tools like Wellness Together Canada, which helps thousands grapple with mental health and substance use challenges from the comfort and safety of their own home. Thousands of others were able to use remote monitoring and care technologies like Dexcom Canada’s continuous glucose monitoring system to manage their diabetes with their healthcare providers’ support without needing to visit the doctor’s office. And the need for reliable COVID-19 test results even when central labs were overtaxed was met by point-of-care testing systems such as are offered by Cepheid Canada’s XpertXpress devices. A doctor’s visit over the computer? Beam me up, Scotty!
2. Personalized medicine
Another vision I have of our future healthcare is more use of personalized therapies. Countless forms of cancer will be made more survivable by molecular and genomic testing and targeted therapeutics. Along with research such as Ovarian Cancer Canada and the Lung Health Foundation are calling for, these technologies will permit the development of therapeutic regimes targeted to the unique needs of the patient. Devices like closed-loop insulin pumps and the artificial intelligence algorithms they run on enable each wearer to adapt insulin dosing for their diabetes in a way that changes minute-by-minute as their needs do. Maybe so few people in Star Trek ever get sick because technological advancements helped future humans cure many of the diseases which plague us now.
3. Supported healthcare workers
My final big wish for our future healthcare system is one where our valued healthcare workers have the supports they need to do their jobs well. That vision will require many complex elements to realize, but health tech can be an important part of the picture. Artificial intelligence – both for health records and for diagnostics – can prompt healthcare providers to look for conditions like diabetes that may be present but asymptomatic. Integrated health records can not only facilitate prescription renewal but also provide data that can be used to track health trends at a population level. By using tech to reduce some of the burden on our healthcare professionals, we free them up to offer the care that no health tech ever could.
Making these health technologies the integral component of our healthcare system – that I believe they will be – will require continued effort on the part of governments and other health stakeholders to ensure they are accessible, reimbursable and delivered across health systems. But even that is within our grasp.
I guess maybe there’s always been a part of me that was a bit of a tech geek, especially where health was concerned. So it’s extra rewarding to work, alongside my colleagues at Hill+Knowlton Strategies, with companies that are so integral to Canada’s efforts to boldly go where no one has gone before: a future where better healthcare is accessible to all.
Please note, organizations listed within this article are clients of Hill+Knowlton Strategies.