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OP ED: Health Research Helps The Economy

The Ivany report clearly articulated why we need to revitalize the Nova Scotia economy and there has been much discussion since about how to do that.

But the vibrant health research sector has not been the focus of any attention, either in the Ivany Report or in the follow-up.

What is the health research sector and why should we care about it? Who works in it and who benefits, other than researchers?

The sector is the combined activities of all health research teams in health authorities, universities and the private sector. It is a robust economic driver and critical to our health-care system.

The health sciences sector brings in more than $90 million in grants and contracts at the Dalhousie University-IWK Health Science Centre and the Nova Scotia Health Authority This unfortunately goes unrecognised as a great economic driver.

Funds that support these research activities provide hundreds of well-paid jobs and training for students. Coming from out of province, the funds are a net gain to the Nova Scotia economy.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA), the IWK and Dalhousie University together employ more than 350 research coordinators and assistants, supported by funds from outside Nova Scotia.

There is a real potential to increase research funding by at least 50 per cent over the next five to seven years if a truly collaborative strategy were developed as a partnership among the NSHA, the IWK, Dalhousie, other provincial universities and the private sector.

Health research is critical to attract and retain health-care specialists in all disciplines who would otherwise not come here.

Health research brings the best and latest diagnostics and treatments to Nova Scotians and promotes a culture of inquiry needed for outstanding patient care.

It’s time to recognise the true value of health research and to focus on enlarging it throughout the province and across more heath facilities and universities.

The reorganization of health care under two authorities presents this opportunity. They and universities and health facilities need a platform of collaboration to move forward on this important file and to maximize the full benefit of research.

A receptive open-door policy to the creative minds of our health-care teams is also critical for development of a better care system, driven by innovation, efficiency and economic benefits.

The many small, creative health-related start-ups emerging in Nova Scotia need a connection with the Health Authority and the health department. That is currently not happening with any efficiency.

The state of our health-care system calls for radical change of our models of care and for innovations to drive transformation, such as developing support and communication platforms. There is overwhelming evidence of the need to innovate, as evidenced by initiatives in all major jurisdictions in Canada and the world.

Nova Scotia has had great success with an innovative model involving paramedics at several points of care. This has reduced hospitalizations. More initiatives of this type are clearly needed.

Attempts to support innovations in health with new technologies have been identified as a so-called priority by Capital Health, the IWK and Dalhousie and funding agencies. But the Health Authority has no flexibility to support pilot projects beyond a limited scope. And the health department has recognized the system lacks “receptor capacity” — meaning the ability to receive, evaluate and potentially adopt innovations.

Here are examples where clinical research resulted in significant improvements in health care and led to small start-up firms which have become economic drivers:

Densitas Inc. is a start-up medical device and software company whose products make big data meaningful for health-care decision-makers. This initiative grew out of collaborations among clinicians, biostatisticians and support staff on how to make mammography safer and more reliable.

Kinduct Technologies Inc. develops products to manage information for organizations working with patients, athletes and clients. It helps collect, organize, share and analyze data to support informed decisions.

The Strongest Families Institute’s programs and modules began as research by the Centre for Research in Family Health at the IWK. It draws on six years of research into effective programming for children and families.

None of these initiatives had success in gaining access to the Nova Scotia health-care system through the health department.

Recognizing the lack of clear direction on innovation, the department finally developed an advisory panel, which in turn produced a report, “Strategies for Innovations in Health”, followed by an “action plan”.

The report and action plan were completed more than six months ago. They are a great start, but have not yet seen the light of day beyond a very limited circulation within government.

Dr. Raymond LeBlanc is a Dalhousie University Emeritus professor, former Head of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at Dalhousie and Capital Health Authority, 1979- 2002.