A few weeks ago, Communitech – one of the focal points for tech in Waterloo and a leading Regional Innovation Centre in Canada – published a series of articles called “Code Now.” The series offered a comprehensive look at how the Waterloo Region tech ecosystem can assist the local medical community during COVID-19 and in the post-COVID world.
The problems being experienced by the local medical community range from pain points and shortages to overarching issues with the ways that the tech and medical communities interact. While one of the stated aims of the series was to highlight urgent issues that the tech-inclined could help with right now, a reading of its four parts illuminates the short-, mid- and long-term requirements for spurring medtech innovation.
- How tech can help medicine beat COVID-19
- The urgent needs behind the scenes
- The help doctors need on the front line
- Meeting of the minds
Short-term: Fix the problems we know about
The shocking thing about the “Code Now” series is just how many technological gaps medical staff identified within their own operations. We won’t go into depth, but identified problems include patient tracking, staff tracking, supply chain management and more. While some of these issues seem routine enough, it’s important to note that a) medical applications have extremely high privacy and security standards and b) many problems are being identified now because they’re straining existing systems that work well enough (even if they aren’t perfect) much of the time.
Many of these problems are fixable in the short term, though some are complex enough that solutions will have to come post-COVID. That said, there’s an opportunity right now – in the near-term – to create new innovations that solve these ongoing problems. We know there’s a market.
Mid-term: Building a better relationship between medical and tech communities
One recurring theme across the “Code Now” series is the lack of interaction between the medical and tech communities. The barriers aren’t just between two different industries, but between two different cultures.
“I think what I’m keen to do is make sure that we can bring cultures – medicine and technology – together,” said Lee Fairclough, the President of St. Mary’s Hospital, told Communitech’s Craig Daniels.
The mid-term solution is an ongoing partnership between the two industries that keeps communication open. Young Lee, the Vice President of Quality, Performance and Clinical Systems Transformation at Grand River Hospital, is working with other local stakeholders to form a “think tank” that serves this exact purpose. In practice, this “think tank” is a very robust peer-to-peer group that puts front-line medical staff, administrators and tech entrepreneurs in the same room.
We have peer-to-peer groups – many run through Communitech itself – for marketing, sales, project and product management, finance and more. Perhaps a first step is making a medtech peer-to-peer group a permanent addition to the community.
Long-term: Make systemic changes to medtech innovation
A number of interesting suggestions that are clearly long-term in nature appear throughout the “Code Now” series, including:
- Hiring of medical professionals with an entrepreneurial mindset
- Creating a more permanent connection with both basic science research and the tech community
- Building capacity in areas of medicine that are ripe for technological innovation, like neurosurgery
- Encourage the increase in local manufacturing capacity for important medical equipment
Each of these suggestions align with Waterloo’s strengths. For example, one of the qualities that has set the University of Waterloo (UWaterloo) apart for decades is the focus on recruiting the most entrepreneurial students and faculty – many of the key learnings from that process could help turn Waterloo into a centre of medical innovation and entrepreneurship. Are there ways to accelerate information sharing between UWaterloo and local hospitals?
Likewise, the community has ample experience creating hubs, incubators and shared workspaces that help drive the collisions that lead to innovation, like Communitech, the Accelerator Centre, Velocity, Catalyst137 and Canada’s first industry-led medtech hub, Medical Innovation Xchange (MIX). Does that mean the hospital needs to find ways to develop innovation capacity? Does the community require more medtech hub capacity? A medtech innovation outpost?
When it comes to medical manufacturing capacity, work is already in progress. As we’ve previously reported, InkSmith has made a massive pivot to manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE) face shields, Eclipse Automation is building a fully-automated N95 respirator mask production line and ATS Automation is producing respirators, ventilators and more. This is in addition to the many companies that have temporarily shifted their production to produce medical supplies. Waterloo’s existing capacity in automation, experienced talent in advanced manufacturing and proven ability to pivot quickly suggests that achieving the last point is well within reach.
While the focus is currently on the here and now, Communitech’s “Code Now” series certainly asks interesting questions about what we could become. We are a community of problem solvers, and medical innovation is well within the grasp of a community with Waterloo’s talent and ecosystem.
Do you want to learn more about opportunities to innovate in Waterloo? Contact our team.
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