If you are like the overwhelming majority of people who did not read the latest Ontario provincial budget top to bottom, you might have missed a new initiative tucked away on page 92 to create an “Innovation Pathway” for health technologies.
This new initiative, which will be led by the government’s procurement agency Supply Ontario, holds an enormous amount of potential to transform our health for the benefit of patients, providers, and entrepreneurs. By championing local health technologies and leveraging government procurement, Minister Sarkaria and Minister Jones are on track to solving the sector’s long-standing innovation problem and creating a stronger health-care system that provides higher-quality care to more patients across the province. Let us explain how.
It’s no secret that Canada has an innovation problem and has had one for a very long time. In health care, this problem isn’t the lack of commercialized and market-ready Canadian-made technologies and devices. In fact, Ontario is home to a rapidly growing and vibrant ecosystem of successful medtech companies, of which we are a part at the Medical Innovation Xchange (MIX).
Instead, our innovation problem in health care is an adoption challenge. Since the sector is publicly funded, the only way to fund the adoption of new technologies is either through charitable fundraising or one-time government funding. This creates a problem for both entrepreneurs and health providers because neither approach is permanent nor scalable, trapping high-impact innovations in a cycle of never-ending pilots. While prudent for taxpayers in the short term, this approach results in the majority of Canadian-made health innovations not being used locally.
The lack of a dedicated system to evaluate and fund disruptive health innovations has a direct impact on patients and providers. Innovations that could help improve recovery times, lower the risk of a hospital readmission, or catch a post-surgery complication sooner are too often not used. Similarly, technologies and devices that could help free up hospital beds or lower surgical backlogs are not used either—not because they do not work or because hospitals and physicians do not want to use them, but because funding is not available to support their use.
In other publicly funded jurisdictions globally, this issue is solved by creating a system to test and evaluate health innovations and then scaling those most relevant to local priorities or highly impactful in terms of care or cost. This system would incrementally fund the increased adoption of the innovation as evidence is created, resulting in the highest-impact innovations that receive a positive technology assessment being fully reimbursed by the jurisdiction’s health insurance plan. While similar systems exist in Ontario and other provinces, they are too often complex, unaligned to government priorities, and—most importantly—not tied to funding decisions by the Ministry of Health that would turn a positive assessment into a real reimbursement outcome.
This is why the new innovation pathway holds such potential. If the government successfully builds a new system to test, evaluate, and reimburse new health technologies and devices, it will be a game changer for our health care in Ontario.
So how should the government go about creating this pathway? The key will be to start testing the pathway as soon as possible. The worse outcome would be losing 6-12 months debating how the pathway should work, allowing pressing issues that could be solved today to worsen. Instead, the government should take this spring to design an initial prototype that could be implemented by Supply Ontario this summer. This pathway should include funding for both 1) the adoption of new technologies to generate new evidence, and 2) the increased use of existing high-impact technologies in parallel with their reimbursement assessments to ensure benefits are realized as soon as possible.
And finally, the government should prioritize Ontario-owned companies in this pathway to the fullest extent possible. The creation of this pathway can be both a game changer for our health care and our economy. For too long, Ontario’s health entrepreneurs have run into the same adoption barrier, resulting in many companies relocating south of the border or closing operations. With the new innovation pathway, we and others in the sector applaud the government for creating an initiative that can finally solve this problem. And with it solved, we will be able to build a stronger future for our health care together by using the very best technologies and devices made right here in Ontario.