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Finding innovation in the unlikeliest of places

Sometimes, all it takes is looking at an issue from a different angle to realize you need to think differently if you want to come up with innovative solutions.

In medicine, there’s no such thing as routine. It’s great to have set protocols, but there will always be a case that doesn’t fit with what we’ve learned. Maybe that’s why we value our independence so much, but also why we’re able to think outside the box.

I recently saw proof of this again during the Health Summit organized by the CMA. Hundreds of participants—many of them physicians, but also patients and caregivers from a wide range of backgrounds—got together to discuss ways to prepare for the future in healthcare. The objective, of course, was not only to figure out how to best apply current and future technological advances, but also, in broader terms, to ask ourselves how we can create environments where innovation can help us to improve and democratize healthcare.

If this sounds a lot like the QMA’s mission, it’s because we’ve spent years encouraging physicians to get involved, be agents of change, be aware of their professional responsibilities, and, in short, be professional.

Quite often, however, we see innovation through the micro-lens of new technologies and think of it as a new gadget or a so-called smart device that will finally allow us to throw away our fax machines much like we abandoned VHS cassettes and CDs when we started downloading movies and music.

But innovation is much more than that. It’s the ability to re-invent how we admit patients to a family medicine group so that they’re assigned to a medical team instead of simply being considered part of a physician’s patient roster. It’s the ability to bring medical scribes into emergency rooms to help make physicians more efficient. It’s having the flexibility to adopt a new treatment for a disease, while being able to question old habits because recent studies show that a routine screening test may not be the best option. It’s also being able to talk to our patients in a way that lets them make informed choices about their health.

We also need to accept new ways of providing healthcare, which the Mouvement innovation santé encourages us to do. In our day-to-day activities, we are seeing more and more examples of new practices, such as virtual clinics and remote consultations. And because the population seems to be ready for them, it’s time we start considering working with new healthcare partners in the private sector or the technology sector in order to make covered healthcare more accessible.

Of course, some of these innovations will work and be embraced, while others won’t be around for very long, but we still have to give them a chance and agree that mistakes are sometimes a necessary part of moving forward. All the physicians I’ve seen who innovate—whether by coming up with a new organizational practice, starting a business, designing a software, developing a new stent or orthopedic screw, adopting new practices, or simply questioning their old ways—all had one thing in common: A desire to look beyond the confines of their individual practices.

No matter what project they were working on, these people all resolved to do better and to try something new. With the provincial election just around the corner and uncertainty about the future of our healthcare system looming, I’d like to thank everyone who works hard to make the system better, or to improve the way they do things or interact with patients, because our common goal is ultimately to improve the health of patients and the general population.

Dr. Hugo Viens, B.Sc., M.D., FRCSC 
President, Québec Medical Association


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