eHealth Ontario unveils Innovation Lab
May 4, 2016
HAMILTON, Ont. – In partnership with Mohawk College, eHealth Ontario has launched an Innovation Lab that enables individuals, entrepreneurs and organizations to test and refine their applications for the healthcare sector. Available now in its preliminary form at www.innovation-lab.ca, the free service gives online access to a data set that mimics eHealth Ontario’s client registry, as well as to a moderated forum for discussions.
“It’s available as of today and you can begin testing,” said Peter Bascom (pictured), chief architect for eHealth Ontario. He announced the new service at the Apps For Health conference at Mohawk College in Hamilton, held at the end of April. In the fall, additional components will be added, including a simulated provider registry and a system that stands-in for the huge Ontario Laboratory Information System (OLIS).
While the structure of the systems will mirror the actual eHealth Ontario applications, the patient names and data used will be fabricated, so that privacy and confidentiality are never an issue.
Mohawk College’s MEDIC lab, which produces apps for mid-sized and large customers and also works with entrepreneurs, created the simulated environment for eHealth Ontario at a cost of $400,000. It’s now up-and-running as an electronic ‘sandbox’ that will enable organizations to test the robustness of their solutions.
“Scalability has been a problem for entrepreneurs in the past,” said Ted Scott, dean of applied research at Mohawk College, noting that often enough, the innovations created by small companies haven’t been able to handle the massive data sets of large organizations. “The Innovation Lab gives them access to a large-scale system, so they can develop solutions that can be scaled up.”
Students at the college will also be able to experiment with the system, observed Bascom, enabling them to increase their skills with high-capacity systems and large data repositories. “That makes the students more valuable to companies when it comes time for hiring,” he said.
For its part, Mohawk College and the MEDIC facility, an advanced centre within the school, have emerged as a powerhouse in e-health sector. About 30 staff, students and consultants work at the centre, developing systems for government and private-sector clients in Canada and around the world.
Originally funded by the college, MEDIC is now self-sustaining and fuels itself through contracts with organizations seeking custom solutions, coaching and training.
Dave Thomas, a Telus Health vice president who was a speaker at the Apps For Health event, said the Innovation Lab is “a positive development for all players – public, private, large and small.”
He said the public healthcare system has had trouble modernizing, and that the new, online lab is “a great way to inject innovation into a risk-averse public healthcare system.” It’s the private-sector organizations, especially the entrepreneurs, he said, that are going to produce the ground-breaking solutions that are needed.
“Healthcare innovation is moving too fast for big companies and large organizations,” said Thomas.
Renato Discenza, executive vice president at Hamilton Health Sciences, a panellist at the Apps 4 Health conference, observed that in addition to technological change, the structure of the healthcare system needs retooling.
He noted that electronic visit technology is already available, but “we have to go to a doctor’s office in person, because that’s how the doctor gets paid.” Similarly, patients and doctors don’t readily trade emails, as the doctor won’t be compensated in this way. And because of the traditional working week, patients rush to over-crowded ERs on weekends because the doctor’s office is closed.
“The business model needs fixing,” said Discenza.