Empowering patients, enabling better care

CIHR supports the development of eHealth solutions to address gaps in care

March 3, 2016

The first thing that comes to mind when most people hear the term "eHealth" is electronic medical records (EMRs). While it's true that EMRs fall under the eHealth umbrella, this exciting field actually includes a wide range of health services and information delivered or enhanced through the Internet and related technologies.

Imagine the possibilities. What if an evidence-based app for a smartphone could help young people deal with anxiety or depression?  Could virtual support groups help patients better manage their cardiovascular disease or diabetes? And what if doctors and nurses could use remote monitoring technologies to keep seniors healthy at home?

Dr. Robyn Tamblyn, the Scientific Director of the CIHR Institute of Health Services and Policy Research, talks about eHealth in Canada and what it could mean for patients.

Dr. Robyn Tamblyn
Scientific Director, CIHR Institute of Health Services and Policy Research

For the eHealth Innovation Partnership Program (eHIPP), CIHR worked with the National Research Council—Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) to stimulate collaborations between researchers and Canadian technology companies. By bringing academia and industry together, eHIPP is ensuring that eHealth innovations are being co-developed, tested with the people who will need them, and evaluated for their cost-effectiveness. These teams will focus specifically on early detection and intervention for youth and adolescents (age 11-25) with mental health conditions OR supporting seniors with complex care needs in their homes. Under these two priority areas, a total of 22 projects have been funded.

Audio – Interview with Dr. Robyn Tamblyn


Mr. David Coulombe: Here is David Coulombe for CIHR's Health Research in Action news. Innovation, it's all around us in our day-to-day lives. But what about innovation in health research? We talk about some of the complexities of bringing innovative health technologies into the health system. My guest today is Dr. Robyn Tamblyn, scientific director for CIHR Institute of Health Services and Policy Research. Dr. Tamblyn, welcome to the interview.

Dr. Robyn Tamblyn: Thank you very much David. It's a pleasure to be here.

Mr. David Coulombe: So, tell us, in terms of new technologies, where do we stand in the health care system?

Dr. Robyn Tamblyn: One area where there has been a fair bit of growth is in the area of eHealth. These are technologies that help deliver health care through a variety of different information technologies. In Canada, we have lagged a bit behind in the eHealth area, and it is only recently that we have been able to put in place the jointly-funded health infoway in the provinces, essentially electronic medical records and, in a small number of places, personal health records where patients can access their own information online.

Mr. David Coulombe: Maybe talk to us about barriers? Are there any barriers?

Dr. Robyn Tamblyn: There are quite a number of barriers in Canada that are not as true in, let's say, our neighbour to the South, which is the United States. So, one key area where I think what we need to do to address this is being able to connect together the people who are innovators—the people who actually develop technologies that can potentially be used in health care, or adapted for use in health care—and the people who are actually in the midst of health care trying to deliver care in a system that is fairly paper bound, even to this day, where there is day-to-day frustrations in having to repeat over and over, let's say, the listing of a person's medication. These are the kinds of things that are really pain points in a system where we take very highly educated professionals and very sick patients, and we sort of say ‘let's not make it easy for you to do the right thing.' So, if we could actually get these two folks together, the innovators who create innovative technological solutions and the clinicians and patients who actually live the experience day to day, to solve some of the problems, I think this would be an important step forward in creating opportunities for really startling innovation in Canada.

Mr. David Coulombe: What is the eHealth Innovations Partnership Program exactly?

Dr. Robyn Tamblyn: This is a program that was developed in partnership with the provincial research funders and the National Research Council's IRAP program—that is there to support industry development, particularly in the area of small- and medium-sized enterprises—and we converged our efforts in a kind of tri-partite group of individuals to put together what we thought would be winning conditions for future innovation in the eHealth area in Canada. We called that the eHealth Innovation Partnership Program because what we ask is really to address this issue of getting clinicians and patients together with small- and medium-sized enterprises who are truly the innovators (and we are focused on Canada and Canadian companies that are in this area who wanted to innovate or adapt their products for the health area) with organizational partners—meaning health care delivery organizations and partners like community health clinics, the regional health centers, regional health authorities and hospitals (those would be the kinds of delivery sites)—with researchers to say: ‘Can we work together to actually adapt and deploy solutions that could really deal with some of the pain points along the patient journey, in a way in which it improves both the experience for patients and the costs and outcomes of care'. This program was a funding opportunity that was put together with all of those players, and we ended up by funding eighteen health innovation partnership centres across Canada that are co-innovating solutions in a variety of different areas.

Mr. David Coulombe: Can you give us examples of some projects involving new technologies and their impact for patients in real life?

Dr. Robyn Tamblyn: Yes. Even in this program, I think we saw the kind of innovation that we know is there for Canada. So, for example, out West in British Columbia, we have a really interesting project that is tackling a very difficult issue, which is people who are frequently re-admitted with congestive heart failure to hospital because their condition deteriorates and they can't identify this problem in time in order to connect with their health care provider to intervene in a timely way. So, this group is taking this challenge on and they are putting in place a variety of different home monitoring devices, and they couple that together with advances in what I call predictive analytics, so they can actually identify deterioration in a person's congestive heart failure a number of days before they even become symptomatic. And that's what I call the exciting part of when you marry technology together with the health system as a way of trying to say: ‘How can we reduce avoidable admissions for congestive heart failure, which is not good for patients, is not good for the system, and we can actually identify and intervene earlier to address essentially a deterioration of health state. So, that's one very exciting development in the area of seniors, and people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure are the number one and two candidates who are often re-admitted because of this issue of not intervening in a timely enough fashion to prevent that avoidable deterioration from happening, and people who are in a very fragile state. So, I think that is one that is really quite exciting for me, and I could mention a few others if you like.

Mr. David Coulombe: That is very interesting. That's all the time we have. Thank you so much for your presence here today Dr. Tamblyn.

Dr. Robyn Tamblyn: OK. Thank you very much David.

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