New eHealth Ontario CEO

According to a media release from the Premier’s office, Cynthia Morton has been appointed as the new eHealth Ontario CEO, effectively immediately. Previously, Ms. Morton was a Deputy Minister with the Ontario Ministry of Labour.

David Hallett, currently Associate Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and eHealth Ontario board member, takes on a new role as Associate Deputy Minister, Pan Am and Parapan Am Games effective September 2, 2014.


In Support of Hacking for Health

“If you never change your mind, why have one?” Edward de Bono.

Are hackathons useful in the health sector? In an article I wrote late last year, I admitted that I was still “on the fence.” Never one to be comfortable sitting on the fence, I have continued to explore this question and have slowly reached the conclusion that hackathons indeed have a role to play in driving the development of new health IT solutions and perhaps, more importantly, breaking down barriers that impede innovation.

Check out the rest of the article on Technology for Doctors.



Tugging on Superman’s Cape – Contrarian Views Applied to the Digital Health Agenda

I have teamed with my friend and mentor, William Pascal,  to write a series of articles challenging conventional wisdoms about the Canadian digital health agenda.  Here is the first article in the series which sets the stage for the remainder of the articles

“Time spent arguing is, oddly enough, almost never wasted.” ―Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian


What if we do not need new funding for the digital agenda in Canada? What if we no longer need a Canada Health Infoway or similar bodies such as eHealth Ontario? What if we are less concerned about privacy and more concerned about delivering better care? What if the private sector manages all back office operations for the health sector? All these statements are contrary to conventional wisdom, but are they wrong?

What is conventional wisdom? It can be defined as ideas so accepted they go unquestioned. Think about the Wright brothers. If they had listened to conventional wisdom, they would never have even tried to build a flying machine and our world would be a very different place. Think about the impact on society today if Alexander Graham Bell had been discouraged and gave up when he was told that his invention of the telephone had no inherent value by Western Union.

Too often we accept what’s conventional thinking without trying to see what’s possible and available. The real problem with using conventional wisdom as a guide is that we will constantly be behind the curve, safe with the general masses but missing the opportunities to think independently and create something new or change an existing way of thinking. Ten years ago, who would have thought we’d be spending more money renting software than purchasing it?. Fifteen years ago, mobile devices were not viewed as a key enabler of care when we created an eHealth strategy for Canada.

New ideas or ways to address difficult issues almost always challenges conventional wisdom. Inspired by this reality, we have embarked on a quest to challenge, through a series of articles, some of the conventional wisdom that we believe underlies the approaches to the public policy thinking that is driving the digital agenda in Canada.

This paper, the first in our series of articles challenging Canadian digital health conventional wisdoms, provides a high level overview of the challenges facing the health care system, a description of the digital agenda in the healthcare sector, the status of this agenda in Canada, some observations on this journey, lessons to be drawn from experiences in Canada and Internationally and a suggested list of contrarian possibilities that draw into question conventional wisdom. Subsequent articles will explore these suggested different future states.

You can read the remainder of this paper here.




Innovation Rant

This article appears in the most recent edition of Healthcare Information Management & Communications Canada magazine:

Why do bad things happen to good words? What did the word “innovation”,along with its siblings, “innovate”,“innovative” and “innovator”, do that was so despicable, so heinous as to end up in buzzword hell?

Once reserved to herald inventions that had a profound impact on humankind such as Edison’s light bulb or Marconi’s radio, “innovation” is now used to describe life changing developments such as a new flavour of pop tart. As someone who carefully assesses every word for its impact, I wince more often than not when I see this once powerful word reduced to marketing hype.

To what extent is the word “innovation” overused? According to a December 2013 article in The Wall Street Journal, 197 companies on the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock market index used the term during third quarter shareholder calls in 2013, nearly double the amount from an identical quarter in 2007. This same article – “Is a Peanut Butter Pop-Tart an Innovation” – claims that “companies aren’t just using ‘innovation’ to define breakthrough projects that led to new technology or products; they’re also using the term to describe minor product tweaks and next-generation product features.”

Companies are not the only ones guilty of making liberal use of “innovation” and its derivatives. So too are individuals. According to LinkedIn, “Innovative” has made the list of its members 10 most overused buzzwords for each of the last four years and is the only word to have done so.

Writing on his own blog, Scott Berkun, author of the 2007 book “The Myths of Innovation”, claims:

“Instead of saying ‘we are smart’, ‘we are good’, or ‘we are willing to try new ideas’, messages that can be examined for truth, the word innovation is thrown down ambiguously, as if it were a replacement for having a message, or stating one clearly.”

Echoing Mr. Berkun’s sentiments, Bill Taylor, co-founder of Fast Company magazine, suggests in a December 2013 HBR Blog Network article that the word innovation is “quickly losing whatever meaning it once had.” Mr. Taylor notes that few of the companies and leaders who aspire to make a difference “use the word ‘innovation’ to describe their strategy – implicitly or explicitly they understand that it has been sapped of all substance.” What they do instead, according to Mr. Taylor, is “offer rich and vivid descriptions of what they hope to do, where they hope to get, and why it matters.”

Is innovation the goal to which all organizations should aspire? Must all change be innovative?

According to a May 2012 article in The Wall Street Journal, Scott Berkun believes that what most people call an innovation is just a “very good product”. He chooses to reserve the word innovation for “world civilization changing inventions like electricity, the printing press and the telephone.” In this same article, Matt Roberts, CEO of online restaurant-reservation company OpenTable, states that “change comes more from a process than an end product” and refers to this process as “optimization” rather than “innovation”.

Perhaps the problem is that we are focusing on innovation as an outcome. Consider the peanut butter pop-tart that has become the cautionary tale about overuse of the word “innovation”. While I think that most people will agree that a peanut butter pop-tart is hardly innovative, maybe the process to produce one is difficult and fraught with challenges. A different and novel approach may have been needed to overcome these challenges.

What if we think about innovation not as an outcome but as a means to an end? Writing in Wired Magazine, Michael O’Bryan, founder of the innovation consulting company 360 Thinking suggests that innovation isn’t about what we produce but how we approach solving problems and adapting to an ever changing world. In a November 2013 article entitled “Innovation: The Most Important and Overused Word in America”, Mr. O’Bryan writes:

“Specifically, we need people to possess a series of thinking skills and behavioral traits that result in their ability to discover, develop, and test ideas and solutions that will result in positive changes not only their prospective fields but also in their daily lives. Therefore, innovation should not be discussed as a specific term but as a series of skills and behaviors that a person must possess to be innovative.”

Scott Anthony, author of “The Little Black Book of Innovation”, offers a simple definition of this outcome – “something different that has impact.” These impacts need not be momentous or life changing but, like the peanut butter pop-tart, are felt and appreciated by those to whom they matter.

Like Mr. O’Bryan, Mr. Anthony believes that innovation is a process by which change that has an impact is achieved. In a May 2012 HBR Blog Network article, My O’Bryan states that innovation is a “discipline to be mastered and managed”, one that is “hard work” and
“takes significant practice.”

Despite its unfortunate transformation into an overused buzzword, innovation is still an important concept, particularly in healthcare. Scott Anthony believes that “far from becoming a cliché, innovation will be as important to future leaders as strategy and operational excellence is to current ones.” Maybe we just need to practice it more and talk it about it less.

What are your thoughts on innovation? Is it an overused term? Is innovation a means to end rather than the end itself? Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment.



Healthcare Consumerism: Patient expectations are changing

You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike. The task seemed simple enough: book an appointment for a follow-up visit with an orthopedic surgeon in Ottawa based on a referral from an orthopedic surgeon in Toronto. Yet, by my third call, I was beginning to feel like I was in one of those subterranean mazes that characterized Colossal Cave Adventure, one of the first computer games I ever played. While logic and common sense finally prevailed and I was able to book an appointment, the experience reinforced my contention that patients are also consumers and will increasingly demand the same level of service from their healthcare providers that they do of other service providers.

Check out the rest the rest of my article at Technology for Doctors.



Patient or healthcare consumer? Is there a difference?

Where am I? Why am I having trouble focusing? Oh, wait a minute … that’s my hand … at least, I think that’s my hand. Why does it appear to be moving in slow motion and leaving a blurry trail in its wake? Oh, hang on, there’s my foot. It’s in a cast! Oh, now I remember … it’s all coming back to me now.

Check out the rest of my article at Technology for Doctors.


Can Apple possibly transform healthcare?

As I take my weekly train trek home to Ottawa, I can’t help but notice that early everyone in my car is using a laptop, tablet, or mobile phone (and, in some cases, several of these devices at the same time.) While their activities vary, many are unwinding after a long day by watching a movie or a TV show (the lady next to me is catching up on past episodes of Grey’s Anatomy), reading a book, or listening to music. Each of these industries has been transformed, in some cases quite radically, by Apple. Can Apple do the same for healthcare?

See the remainder of this article at Technology for Doctors