KITCHENER, Ont. – The Grand River Hospital, in partnership with the University of Waterloo, is planning to create an innovation incubator at one of its sites – the Freeport Health Centre. And to help get the initiative off the ground, the hospital is planning a contribution from the Ontario Ministry of Health’s new innovation fund.
Dr. Doug Dittmer (pictured, left), a physician at Grand River, is pitching the idea to William Charnetski, the Ministry of Health’s chief innovation strategist. For his part, Charnetski oversees a $20-million fund the province established to spur innovation in the healthcare system.
The Freeport facility focuses on chronic and long-term care, rehabilitation and mental illness. Because of its lower acuity patients, it’s ideal for testing new, electronic technologies.
Dr. Dittmer says that acute-care hospitals, with their busy emergency wards and intensive-care units are no place for new technologies that have not been thoroughly tested and tweaked in quieter environments.
“Here at Freeport we have the space and a partnership with (the University of Waterloo) to build a centre where people can come and be embedded in a hospital where they can test their devices on real people,” Dittmer said.
Freeport has close to 200 beds, making it the second largest hospital in the Waterloo-Wellington Local Health Integration Network.
“We can try things here in a safer environment, and roll it out to the rest of the hospital and to our sister hospitals,” Dr. Dittmer told the Waterloo Region Record. “It gives you a chance to test things without putting lives at stake in an emergency room or intensive care unit.”
Dittmer and the hospital have a former nurses’ residence, with about 9,000 square feet of space on two floors, as the site of the new incubator. Grand River Hospital is applying for grants to transform the building into a start-up incubator.
The University of Waterloo and Communitech, a tech accelerator, already support the idea, and Dittmer hopes St. Mary’s General Hospital and Cambridge Memorial Hospital will as well.
“Each of the hospitals is unique, but together we are very strong, we are close to 1,000 beds and we will rival anything else in the province,” Dittmer said.
Shirley Fenton (pictured, right), business development director for the Centre for Bioengineering and Biotechnology at UW, said the medical technology hub is a natural for this region. “What we don’t realize is that Waterloo Region is already a centre for medical technology,” Fenton told the Record. “From biosensors, biopharmaceuticals, data analytics, medical imaging, all sorts of different areas.”
UW, Wilfrid Laurier University, Conestoga College, the Waterloo-Wellington Local Health Integration Network, Accelerator Centre and Communitech all support the idea of a medical technology incubator, she said.
“How can we bring our academic researchers and clinicians closer together to innovate? Because we know if we bring people together it will happen,” Fenton said.