Innovation and Sustainability in Health Systems

Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton

Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton

Yesterday, I attended the 5th Innovation Forum organised by the Institute of Health Economics held at the new Art Gallery of Alberta.

Following presentations by Alexandra Bibbee a Senior Economist from the OECD Canada Desk, on the recent OECD Economic Survey for Canada, there was a most interesting panel discussion on the issue of Innovation and Sustainability in Health Systems.

Playing the role of the sceptic, Tim Caulfield, Research Director of the University of Alberta’s Health Law Institute, challenged the notion that highly publicized technologies like genetics or stem cell research will lead to significant cost savings for the health care system in the foreseeable future. Rather, if at all, any savings from such research will be realised in 20-30 years, well beyond the scope of current economic planning. Thus, the promises of these highly “innovative” technologies to lead to a more sustainable health care system or better outcomes have yet to be realised and it is important that we distinguish the hope from the hype.

Marvin Fritzler, Chair, Alberta Research and Innovation Authority challenged this view by pointing out that while technological innovations may not have led to better prevention or treatments, they have played a major role and have a substantial potential in the area of diagnostics. Thus, being able to more accurately diagnose medical conditions can mean that treatments can be more specific and initiated earlier, thus leading to both cost savings and better outcomes.

Alison Tonge, Executive VP, Alberta Health Services discussed the potential for innovations in health care systems that could optimize and streamline health care delivery thereby delivering better care at lower costs. Clearly, there are considerable savings to be made by changing the way that health care is delivered and that innovations in health care delivery may prove to be a key factor in securing the sustainability of health care.

Finally, Fred Horne, MLA and Co-Chair of the Minister’s Advisory Committee on Health spoke on the notion that Albertans are less interested in the absolute amount spent on health care than on whether or not they were actually getting value for their money. Thus, the real question is whether or not every dollar spent on health care was in fact providing the maximum benefit in terms of better outcomes. This obviously requires greater accountability, which can only be ensured by measuring the right indicators.

Over all, the discussion was most enlightening, as to some of the major issues that face health care strategists and politicians – after all, health care is something we all value and, as people living in Canada, hope can continue to be provided at the highest level in a publicly funded health-care system.

As I pointed out in the question period, sustainability of any health care system without substantial investments in obesity prevention and treatment is likely to be impossible and that the time to scale up access to evidence-based obesity care across the continuum of the health care system from primary to tertiary care is now.

Edmonton, Alberta

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