We take for granted the idea that a doctor can always tell us what’s wrong. But the reality is different: millions of people across North America face limited quality healthcare at a high cost. And that’s if they can even access care in the first place.
This is a problem that Saleema Khimji, the Chief Innovation Officer at MCI Onehealth, is passionate about solving. According to Khimji, it’s also a technology and collaboration problem more than a medical problem. While technological advancements are a conduit through which medical innovation can be achieved, long-lasting innovation needs to be part of a larger strategy that involves all key stakeholders.
In an interview with BetaKit, Khimji shared how the current siloed ecosystem of researchers, governments, and private sector companies can fail patients – and why a new patient-centric model based on collaboration needs technology to thrive.
The tangled healthcare web
Khimji shared a statistic that articulates the current struggles of our healthcare system: right now, a proper diagnosis and planned course of treatment for a rare disease can take four to seven years in North America. Khimji said it takes this long not because the healthcare system is incapable of finding the answers, but because the fragmented structure of the system makes it nearly impossible to efficiently deliver results.
In Canada and the US, for example, healthcare systems have been set up as a variety of different silos: academic research, for-profit research, commercial applications, healthcare planning and strategy, and healthcare delivery. Recent innovations in virtual care have added yet another silo, which Khimji likened to a healthcare call centre more than a piece in a cohesive end-to-end system.
Khimji also noted that incentives between these silos are misaligned, with each silo incentivized to only think about their direct work, not holistic patient outcomes with a focus on diagnosis, prevention, and care in one setting. Because of these misaligned incentives and siloed structures, patients – and sometimes even healthcare workers – have trouble fully understanding how to navigate the system, resulting in patients not getting timely access to relevant care.
The new frontier of healthcare starts in the clinic
For a long time, medical science treated patients “as a set of organs” to “observe, surveil, and fix.” But this way of viewing the patient has now shifted towards patients as active participants in their own well-being. There are now a variety of emerging healthcare technologies, models, and practices contributing to a modernized and more patient-centric system that prioritizes a holistic care experience.
“Innovation is not just about technology. It’s the mechanism by which you organize and sequence how you actually deliver healthcare, and how to actually understand the patient-doctor relationship.”
To speed up this shift, the Chief Innovation Officer said the work needs to start at the clinic level, which is the primary and arguably most critical point of care in forming a holistic understanding of the patient. Healthcare technologies such as virtual care, point-of-care technologies, wearables, and other data-driven AI solutions aid in this, but still require the proper translation into a clinical environment to generate added value for doctors, specialists, and patients.
This can be as simple as using data analytics to measure and show tangible outcomes, like a reduction in time from patient diagnosis to a treatment appointment with a specialist.
But it can also be as fundamental as enabling primary care providers to access and engage with novel research, screening, and algorithms to more accurately and rapidly diagnose patients, identify the best treatment pathways, including relevant clinical trials for novel or rare disease treatments.
But Khimji was clear that this is not about creating tech-ified doctor’s offices where you’re diagnosed by a machine or pushed into a therapy trial without human intervention. Instead, it’s about equipping doctors with the right tools to better help their patients, and “changing the way you include patients in their own health.”
“Innovation is not just about technology,” Khimji continued. “It’s the mechanism by which you organize and sequence how you actually deliver healthcare, and how to actually understand the patient-doctor relationship.”
Beyond the clinic, innovation will be just as critical in repairing the fragmented and siloed healthcare system. This is where Khimji feels MCI Onehealth is uniquely situated: “We are using technology to build a connected end-to-end healthcare ecosystem based on a patient-centric purpose and foundation.”
A framework for collaboration and innovation
That said, given its fragmented state, the future of healthcare should not rely solely on the shoulders of a single company, department, or group of experts. Rather, a healthcare system that revolutionizes the patient care experience and utilizes innovative technology to its fullest extent requires a strong infrastructure built upon joint efforts between industry leaders.
Right now, current legal frameworks and privacy regulations don’t necessarily allow for immediate collaboration. As a result, representatives from across the ecosystem need to come together to discuss the best path forward, which Khimji argued is already happening amongst key stakeholders in the healthcare space.
Collectively, many key actors, from governments to corporations, are working towards a common goal of solving these challenges, and MCI Onehealth wants to accelerate that path. Khimji pointed to its current project with world-class research and healthcare partners Polyclinic, Altima Dental, and Khure Health on primary care scheduling optimization. The project recently received funding from the Scale AI supercluster program.
“With this solution, we seek to offer better care to our patients and champion a holistic model for more integrated, personalized, and cost-efficient healthcare delivery,” Khimji said. “It’s the beginning of a new era of healthcare, and MCI Onehealth is excited to help in paving the way forward by fostering collaboration and promoting innovation in our Canadian healthcare system as within the larger global ecosystem.”