Shift by Alberta Innovates

Shift talks with Sean DeWitt from Alberta Innovates

January 21, 2020 Shift Season 1 Episode 1
Shift by Alberta Innovates
Shift talks with Sean DeWitt from Alberta Innovates
Chapters
Shift by Alberta Innovates
Shift talks with Sean DeWitt from Alberta Innovates
Jan 21, 2020 Season 1 Episode 1
Shift

In this episode we talk with Alberta Innovates' Sean DeWitt about health innovation in the province. We focus on the launch of the eXtended Reality Health Economic Acceleration and Development (xR HEAD) program, and discuss the role of data in health care and Alberta Innovates' role as a convener in Alberta's innovation ecosystem.   

Sean's bio

Sean is the Senior Business Partner with Alberta Innovates, who oversees the Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Health System program.  

He has an undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences with a Business minor and an MBA – both from the University of Alberta. He has worked in operations and manufacturing with Afexa Life Sciences (makers of COLD-FX®), as well as in sales with Novartis and Bristol-Myers Squibb.  

Sean joined Alberta Innovates from Alberta Health Services where he worked with family physicians to enhance primary care governance and operations in Alberta. 

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode we talk with Alberta Innovates' Sean DeWitt about health innovation in the province. We focus on the launch of the eXtended Reality Health Economic Acceleration and Development (xR HEAD) program, and discuss the role of data in health care and Alberta Innovates' role as a convener in Alberta's innovation ecosystem.   

Sean's bio

Sean is the Senior Business Partner with Alberta Innovates, who oversees the Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Health System program.  

He has an undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences with a Business minor and an MBA – both from the University of Alberta. He has worked in operations and manufacturing with Afexa Life Sciences (makers of COLD-FX®), as well as in sales with Novartis and Bristol-Myers Squibb.  

Sean joined Alberta Innovates from Alberta Health Services where he worked with family physicians to enhance primary care governance and operations in Alberta. 

Speaker 1:

Welcome to shift by Alberta innovates. I'm Katie Burnett and I'm Jon Hagan. Today on shift, we're talking with Sean Dewitt, senior business partner at Alberta innovates about health innovation in the province.

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Alberta's home to world class talent, entrepreneurs, innovators and researchers in everything from health to energy. On this podcast, we want to shine a light on these people and tell their stories to shift your perspective on what Alberta has to offer.

Speaker 2:

Welcome Sean .

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Thanks for having me. Of course. This is our first ever shift podcast , so we're really excited to kick it off with you here. Glad to be here. Yeah. So you and I go back a little ways and so I am familiar with a little bit of what you do with our health innovation team. You recently launched , the sixth rendition of PRIHS last week. Was that right? Yeah. And then in December you launched a program called XR head. Yes. Yeah. And correct me if I'm wrong here, Sean , but I think that's the first of its kind at Alberta innovates, at least Alberta innovates and the province. Actually the first of its kind. That's really, really cool. So why don't you, let's start there. What is XR head? Sure. Well, let's start what it stands for. So , uh , it's extended reality health, economic acceleration and development. Wow. Yeah. So when we say XR, that's actually a fill in for virtual reality, augmented reality and also mixed reality. Really it's a catchall and it's just a nice short way of saying it. But really what we're talking about is an opportunity to fund projects that use XR technology in health applications. So it might be in the clinical care for patients, but it also might be in educating new providers , uh, in, in different clinical settings. Can you give us an example of how that would look? Sure, absolutely. So, you know, if I take a step back about XR head, you know, when we talk about emerging technologies like XR, a lot of institutions, health systems, post-secondary , um, they're interested in it and I think they see the value.

Speaker 4:

But anytime you have a new technology, it's risky to to take it on and maybe to try it as a project and XR head exists. To be able to take away that risk and make it easier for these institutions to trial, develop and adopt this sort of technology in whatever setting that they see fit. Um , to give you some examples of where XR is really being used in health right now. Um, I actually just did a demo yesterday at a company where I was in a virtual reality setting and I had to start an IV on a patient. That's really cool. It was wild. So , uh , full disclosure, I'm not a clinician, so this was news to me, but they walked me through and you do everything from, you know, introducing yourself and checking the identification bracelet on the patient to checking the medications. Uh, you go and you prep the Ivy line and they've done it in such a way that in, in virtual reality, the physics are there. So it's not just like a cartoon or a game, you physically have to feel where the, where the line is. And , and the line will droop and move and all of that. That's cool. So I got the opportunity to go to Nate and do something similar, but we didn't there. The feeling wasn't there. So that's interesting to me. Yeah. So it not so much tactile, but the physics were there. They told me it took almost a month to do, just to master the physics of what an Ivy line might look like with, with everything that's going on in a room and everything else. It's quite, it's a super complicated thing. So what you're saying there is how when you reference physics, how the Ivy line is going to behave in this virtual space. That's exactly it . Mimic a real Ivy line. Yeah. And this, this was developed for nurses at a local postsecondary , um, to train them in doing IVs and to get them to know the process in and out because it's one thing to read it in a textbook and it's entirely another to be in a room with a patient and having to start an IV. And you know, in sports coaches always say, well, practice, like it's a game. And the closer we get to the real thing in practice, the more prepared we'll be and the better we will be. Um , when game time comes. Yeah . That'll have huge impact on the health system and nurses. Absolutely. And so you can sort of in your mind, multiply that out across every health discipline almost every procedure , um, all the way down the line. So, you know, other examples of XR technology and health is surgeons can do the same thing, right? Performing surgery virtually , um , is of course a lot better and gets a lot more experience under your belt when it comes time for the real thing. So I'm imagining the old game operation is that kind of what it's like you're not far off, but imagine that , um , in the complexity of a virtual world and the complexity of the human body , um , being replicated in virtual reality, it's really cool. And of course, another one of the huge advantages of something like that is they can teach these over a distance that you don't have to be, the instructor doesn't have to be onsite with the student to learn these. That's absolutely it. That's exactly it . So , um, you , you know, even , um, I was at a conference recently and there was a company that does remote surgical , um, robotics training. So a lot of, you know, surgery these days is, there's a lot of applications for robotics. Well, this company will teach surgeons how to use some of these surgery robots, but like you say, remotely, they can be thousands of miles away and it works just as well.

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That's awesome. Especially with the way our world is going with the globalization and all of that. [inaudible] absolutely. So, and all the technology like this can be applied beyond health. And I understand your focus is on health innovation, but I think it's a , you know, it's conceivable that something like this could be refined and then applied and all sorts of different industries and applications.

Speaker 4:

That's exactly it. So we do have our mind and our eyes turned , um, beyond sort of this immediate program for XR head. Um, and we've been getting a lot of info interest from some of our other, you know, partners in the ecosystem but also within Alberta innovate some of our different business lines. You know, a lot of the companies that we're working with in XR are not necessarily health specific. You know, they might do some projects in health, but they also do a lot of other projects in industry, in, in , um, all sorts of other different realms that are beyond health. Where, you know, maybe you want to train someone on how to repair a certain piece of industrial equipment or you can do that in virtual reality. They don't have to have a broken piece of equipment in front of them or they don't have to wait for it to break to figure out how to fix it. Um, and they don't have to learn with just, you know, a textbook drawing. It can be in front of them.

Speaker 5:

That's fascinating. So tell us a little bit more about the program. What are you looking for?

Speaker 4:

Sure. So , uh , you know, the, the program is really looking to bring together two parts , um, two parties together to be able to create a project using XR in healthcare . And these two parties are, you know, the language in the program itself may not be pretty, but that's some of the legal ease to be able to keep it as broad as possible because we didn't want to limit the program, but we're looking to bring together , um, a partner, whether it's in the health systems, whether it's a health system provider, a hospital, something like that. Or it could be a postsecondary partner. So , um , an academic institution, maybe it's a school of medicine that wants to teach future doctors, whatever it may be. We'll bring together those folks with a company or an organization that has skills in developing XR solutions. So those are usually private companies. And what we're doing here is we're ticking the two boxes from Alberta innovates perspective. That is our mandate, which is for our health innovation group. We're looking to improve the health and wellbeing of Albertans number one and alongside of that, number two, looking to develop and diversify the economy. And that's where we're bringing together the health system and private companies to be able to create solutions that work for both and tick both of those boxes. So tell me why, why so people apply for this program and what's the value that Alberta innovates has to offer? Absolutely. Well, that's a good question. So , um, I think the first and most obvious is that we do offer funding for projects. Um, and you know, as I mentioned, some of these projects , um, could be viewed as a little bit risky because it's an emerging technology. And when I say risky, I just mean that, you know, some organizations don't have experience with XR technology and if you're able to bring some funding to the table, you are able to make that decision to adopt a lot easier for those organizations. But what we're also bringing is some ecosystem development. So I think an important part of this program is Alberta innovates has partnered with the VR AR association, which is a global association. We've partnered with the Alberta chapter, which represents the VR and AR industry. And that partnership is really developing the ecosystem here in Alberta. We're developing the capabilities of these companies and developers. We're also bringing in job training and skills and hopefully hiring that follow and investment that follows on from these projects. One of the things you mentioned offline was a risk and that there's less risk for these companies. Can you speak to that? Yeah, absolutely. So you know, the adoption of any technology. Um, uh, of course, you know, I'll tell you a little story. So my, my, my , uh, my family doctor, I am , I once asked him, I said, you know, what do you consider when it comes to prescribing like new drugs that are on the market better just out there? And he said, well, you know, in med school I learned never be the first guy to prescribe a drug and never be the last. And I , I right . So I , I think there's something about technology there to where folks always want to see a success story somewhere else before they adopt. And it's very hard to convince, you know, if your an academic institution or if you're a hospital , um, you have a lot of stakeholders to answer to. And it's sometimes quite difficult to make the case to adopt an emerging technology if you have not seen success elsewhere. But if a program like this comes along and says, look for the company, you're not at risk because we are covering the costs of some of this development. And as an organization, you're not at risk because again, you're not, this is not coming at the expense of existing programming or care or anything like that. If we take away those two channels of risk, then we get these projects that can be success stories for those early adopters or sorry for the folks that come after these early adopters to be able to sit to point and say, look, it was successful at institution X. Now we want to try it. And so that's, I think a lot of the value that XR had brings. Right ? That's, yeah, that's fascinating. So, so there's two kind of components to incenting people and companies and institutions to kind of come together to adopt this. That's the risk mitigation and the financial incentive. A grant program that will offer subsidies. Um, oftentimes that may not be enough to get people to come on board . Is there other additional Avenue? Got you . Avenues you guys are exploring to, you know, stimulate the interest. You mentioned a presentation that you had done yesterday. Yeah. The, the, the, that's a , uh , that's a great question. So we've , um, my, my colleague Raj and meta and I have a lot of ideas in the hopper and so does the VRA, our association. Um , a little teaser is I would say keep an eye out for some exciting XR stuff at int ventures. Um, but also, you know, there's a VR AR global summit , uh , this fall in Vancouver. Um , we're looking to have a presence there. Um, and we've gone a lot of other really interesting ecosystem development things in the works , um, with a lot of different groups, different organizations that want to see Alberta be a global XR leader, especially in healthcare . I think we've got the ingredients in this province , um, where we are, what top three for artificial intelligence globally. And that's just it, right? Is we have the expertise we have, but, but we'd still need to bring some of those ingredients together. And that's what our role at Alberta innovates. That's what we're doing with XR head. And it's more than just a grant program. It's ecosystem and, and economic development. That networking, I know that you guys have a bit of a tie into our technology development advisors as well. Um , what does that look like? Yeah, so w we view the , the technology development advisors or TDAs, we view them as experts in a lot of ways, right? So that they, I mean, all day, every day they get pitched business ideas, they get pitched technologies, they have their finger on the pulse about what is out there and what's what's viable. So we work closely with them to be able to say, you know, when, when we are presented with a new opportunity, we have a certain lens to it. And that's on the health innovation side. Um, but they really do understand the technology commercialization aspect of it. And so we bring them in to really get a good idea of the potential future of technology, including its commercialization and market pathway. Cool. Yeah, they're a great resource for that sort of thing. Um, let's, let's, I just want to explore a little something different and , and move away from XR head for a moment if that's okay. Now I might put you on the spot a little bit, but what I'm this, this talk of, you know, virtual reality, augmented reality, the X kind of catchall , um, from your perspective and health innovations. What do you guys see now again, beyond the X component of innovation, where do you guys see innovation going in Alberta? What are some of the other kind of hot pockets you think are going to come up in 2020? Uh , that's interesting. I think what we're seeing in terms of trends in health innovation are , um, you could call it a democratization of right, and a consumerization. So that is to say healthcare is one of the last bastions of sort of any industry that has not been fully brought to an individual's control. So if you think about finance, you get your banking on demand, you have all your financials on your phone, and if the complexities and the privacy involved in finance, if that's achievable to be at your fingertips on demand. I think we're running out of excuses for why healthcare can't be the same way. So I think what you're going to see and what we're already starting to see are Mo are fewer innovations focused on institutions such as acute care hospitals. Look, that's important and it plays a point or plays a role. Pardon me. But I think you're gonna see more things targeted towards the patient as an individual and as a human being. And I think more you're going to see innovations around people having access to their own health data, but then also having a team that can interpret and work with that data. I love, I love hearing you say that. So like yesterday I had a really interesting talk with Mark Diner from the Alberta Data Institute and he was saying the exact same thing.

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Yeah. It , you know, on the data side market and the Alberta data Institute are doing absolutely great work at health information and data, especially in Alberta is an immensely complex area and I don't, I don't pretend to understand all of it, but I, that is definitely the trend, right? Is that the healthcare system, I don't think we'll move there on its own, but it's the demand. It's, it's the pull side from consumers who are demanding it that will force the system's hand at some point and it's going to happen whether we're ready or not. I'll give you a quick example. Um, you know there's a company in Canada called Maple, which does essentially virtual physician visits on demand. So on your phone you can have the maple app and you can essentially Skype, not using Skype but using their app with a physician. Yeah. In real time. Alberta doesn't have, for example, a billing code for physicians to do that, but patients are willing to pay out of pocket. We don't have a regulatory framework for some of this stuff yet, but it's already happening. I was in a meeting where a family physician said, this is happening, whether we're ready or not. So it's really a question of whether we want to be part of crafting how this is going to look or if it's just going to happen around us and we just watch it. You're right. Yeah. It's kind of the emancipation of data. It's exactly a in a safe and secure environment in his soul. So people can be rest assured that their data is not being shared broadly with the dark forces.

Speaker 4:

Absolutely. But you know, a lot of those solutions, they take those considerations in and they're part of it. Right. So, you know, if something like maple is encrypted end-to-end and enabled to just one of, there's this handful of companies that they're doing this already , um, it's happening and it's that democratization of, of healthcare that we better be ready for.

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Totally. So you've told us , um , what's the issue is, how do you think that we can solve that? Well, that's a very good question. I think , um, you know, if I see this trend about towards the patient centered care, it dovetails in with the, with another trend which is moving away from I would say the purely medical definition of health, which we, you know , uh, we know does not account for nearly as much of someone's overall health as things like social determinants, right? So where you live, how much money you have, are you food secure, you housing secure, all of those sorts of things.

Speaker 4:

So if, if we have the social determinants and more of a shift towards community health care as opposed to institutional medical care, if we have that dovetailing with the democratization and person centered NIS of care, those two trends I think we have to be ready for. But one thing that we're doing is engaging with partners at the community level to be able to ask them what their needs are. Um, you know, we understand some trends, but they understand what some of the most pressing needs for people are right now that frontline need. And that that was going to be my question is in terms of social determinants of health, how is Alberta innovates and other innovators and people in the ecosystem, how are they working with those partners that are in those front lines to address situations like that? Yeah. And the , the first step is to just show up with ears and uh , keep our mouth shut for a little bit and just listen. Right. And because they do know what their problems are. Um, and then we can go about co-designing what solutions look like. It's, it's not an airdrop of money. It's not us saying, I understand those are the problems, but here's our priorities, therefore yours don't, you know, X, Y and Z. We will , um, co-design a solution based on what their pressing problems are. Um, but they are the ones that understand the complexities of social determinants and of person centered care , um, much better than we can from our position, but we're coming in as collaborators and partners. Awesome. No, that's great to hear. Uh , let's quickly skip back to uh , to XR head cause I think we probably want to start wrapping up, but if companies and institutions are interested in applying or learning more about X our head, what should they do? Absolutely. Check out the Alberta innovates website. We're right there. Um, my email address is right on that website. Um, or you can pick up the phone and call me. I want to hear from everybody and everyone, I don't want anyone to miss out on this opportunity. Um, having said that, it is a short window , uh, the program closes for applications at the end of January, but if we're successful enough with this one and this first round, while then who knows what the future holds for, for XR head. And maybe we'll see you at in ventures . You absolutely will. And maybe we'll have something to announce. I don't know. You've got us intrigued, Sean . Well thank you so much for being on here with us today. Well thanks for having me. Really appreciate it. This was fun. That was fantastic. Thank you. Thanks guys.

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Thank you for tuning into shift . You can check out all of our [email protected]toshiftatalbertainnovates.ca.