Written by: Paige Gilbank
“Canada is a leader for the development of innovative health technologies. However, in Ontario, there are no widely accepted, consistent pathways or processes for implementation and many seemingly great innovations fail to penetrate our health care system due to its complexity and lack of transparency.”
This fundamental gap called Ahlexxi Jelen and Robby Spring into action. Throughout their research careers, they saw a need for different approaches to translate research findings that had a practical impact in health care. In Fall 2016, Ahlexxi and Robby began their Master of Health Science in the Translational Research Program (TRP). The TRP is a two-year, professional Master of Health Science degree that encourages students to integrate their domain expertise with experiential learning and translational thinking to advance problem-solving designs in medical and health sciences.
Ahlexxi and Robby share over 20 years of research experience and shortly after completing their degree, they transitioned from their roles as laboratory managers at the Hospital for Sick Children and Baycrest, respectively, to forge new paths as part of their career aspirations within the health care system.
“The lack of clarity and transparency for implementing innovative health technologies in Ontario creates a system that is difficult to understand and navigate. This poses a major challenge for health innovators who lack knowledge about the structure and function of the system and pathways for commercialization.”
Ahlexxi and Robby recognized the complexity of health care innovation in Ontario and identified that there was a need to streamline the process to be more understandable. This sparked their interest to develop a solution that would demystify the implementation process for innovative health technologies in Ontario.
This idea became a reality once they began their TRP capstone project. The capstone project is the second year focus and a primary requirement as a graduating student in the TRP. Students embark on a self-directed capstone project where they apply their newly developed knowledge and tools to explore a health care problem. Using a Co-Translational FrameworkTM developed by the program, students take on a human-centred design approach to innovate within health care to mobilize this knowledge into practice.
The duo began their capstone using a translational thought strategy to leverage the knowledge and insights of subject matter experts and key opinion leaders in the field. Through their initiative, they interviewed and consulted numerous experts across the pillars of health, gaining perspectives from government, academia, industry and health care. From these discussions, Ahlexxi and Robby developed a framework and iteratively constructed the prototype in a co-creative manner. At their final capstone presentation, Ahlexxi and Robby showcased their process and product: an informational resource designed to help guide health innovators through the complex processes and pathways for implementation of innovative health technologies in Ontario. The tool is a free accessible resource available to the health care community and acts as a “choose your own adventure” style based on the specific context of the innovation. In December 2018, Ahlexxi and Robby launched HIIO (Health Innovation Implementation in Ontario).
“The Ontario health care system requires a framework to support health innovators navigate the innovation ecosystem in order to improve decision-making among health innovators, engagement among stakeholders, and sharing and accessing information and services.”
To validate the content and function of the tool, the pair sought expert feedback from the health and innovation community. Since graduating, Ahlexxi and Robby have continued to execute their vision and collaborate with field experts to refine the resource into a meaningful tool for health innovators and other key players in the community.
“Through HIIO, we aim to support Health Innovators in Ontario by providing the information and resources needed to navigate the complexities of our health care system. Using a phased approach, we have highlighted the processes and pathways for implementation and offer comprehensive insights throughout the innovation lifecycle — from idea generation to diffusion.”
This project was not without hurdles. While the Co-Translational FrameworkTM is displayed as a step-wise approach, the practice of applying it is non-linear. There were many pivots, challenges and iterations throughout their journey; Ahlexxi and Robby share some of their lessons learned:
- “[Your] solution is only as good as your understanding of the problem.”
- “Work with someone you’re compatible with and who shares a common goal and vision.”
- “Be flexible and learn to adapt within your environment.”
Ahlexxi and Robby had a vision to create a meaningful solution that would enforce and benefit the health innovation community. Both entered the Translational Research Program determined to make an impact, and both moved on with their degree and a dynamic set of tools and expertise to make it happen.