Collaboration Works: How Island Organizations Are Connecting for Virtual Health Care

Photo of Sue Paish, CEO, Digital Technology Supercluster
Sue Paish, CEO, Digital Technology Supercluster

What stands out with so many of the recent technology projects in health care is the collaboration involved with each. In fact, COVID-19 has underscored the critical need for collaboration to resolve problems and move forward. The Digital Technology Supercluster is all about collaboration. 

“We bring different organizations together — public sector, private sector, large, small, academic and research organizations — to solve big problems,” says Sue Paish, CEO at Digital Technology Supercluster, a cross-industry collaboration of diverse organizations.

When the pandemic hit in March, the Supercluster acted fast to create an environment of collaborative innovation to advance and deploy technologies quickly. 

“It’s private sector, public sector, working together and being committed to an outcome,” says Paish. “I want to emphasize how important this model is, how effective the digital Supercluster has been in bringing these organizations together and how Canadians have benefited.” 

Paish lists just three of many recent Supercluster health care advancements. 

“One example is a project that we have called ‘point-of-care ultrasound for COVID-19, and this is a project that shows the agility of public and private sector organizations when they work together,” she says. 

The typical ultrasound machine is large and bulky and access is very difficult, especially for people who live in remote rural areas. Point-of-care ultrasound is a hand-held ultrasound device that detects COVID-19 in lungs. It was developed by a company that had been working on hand-held obstetric ultrasound devices but pivoted quickly when the pandemic hit. 

“We currently have, in the space of a few months, 75 of these hand-held devices delivered across the province, mostly in those remote rural communities,” says Paish, listing Providence Health Care, Change Healthcare (an international company with a big presence in B.C.), Vancouver-based Clarius Mobile Health, University of British Columbia, Rural Coordination Centre of BC and Vancouver Coastal Health Authority as being involved in the project. “So a real combination of large, small, public and private, and that technology is mostly using AI.”

Another Supercluster project focuses on the delivery of confidential virtual mental-health services to frontline health care workers. Organizations involved include Starling Minds in Vancouver, along with Genome BC and University of British Columbia.

“In a similar vein, we know that our frontline workers, in particular, frontline health care workers, who are under tremendous stress through the pandemic, are more likely to be experiencing difficulties that could lead to substance-use issues,” says Paish. “And so another project led by ALAViDA, another small B.C. company, again using A.I. and machine learning, is providing confidential access for frontline workers to virtual substance, use services any time day or night, anywhere in the province.” 

Coming very soon is virtual wound care, a project led by Swift Medical, a Canadian company supported by a group of organizations. As Paish explains, more than 6.5 million North Americans have chronic wounds — wounds that don’t heal as expected or in a predictable length of time. In Canada, between 30 and 50 per cent of all health care involves a wound. 

“[Virtual wound care uses] the combination of artificial intelligence, machine learning and data to interpret and evaluate the nature of the wound, instruct the patient or the caregiver on how to care for the wound, and then do follow-ups where you can again see the progress or the healing of the wound, all done virtually, digitally,” says Paish.

“This wasn’t even on the radar four months ago,” she adds. 

All these projects and many others were made possible because of the Supercluster. 

“These kinds of things would take years, if not decades, in the traditional approach to health care innovation,” says Paish. “A silver lining of the pandemic is that we are showing what Canadian companies can do to advance the health and safety of Canadians quickly and effectively by working together.”