TR Talks – Experts Discuss The Challenges And Barriers To Innovations In Healthcare

Zoya Retiwalla | TRP | November 27, 2019 


Succeeding in health innovation requires both courage and relentlessness, in the absence of either it is impossible to surpass the barriers to innovation. 

You have an innovative idea and you want to turn it into reality. After meticulous planning and perfecting of this innovation, you introduce this brilliant project to the world. What happens then? That’s when the challenges and barriers crop up. Roadblocks to innovation can come up when you least expect them. When faced with these obstacles, it is essential for you to realize that it is these issues that will help make you, your team, and your innovation stronger.   
Our TR Talks event series draws interdisciplinary audiences from different walks of innovation. We recently hosted a diverse group of researchers, clinicians, health practitioners, and students. Facilitated by the Translational Research Program, the “Barriers to Innovation” TR Talk featured a panel discussion, followed by a Q & A round and ended with an engaging networking opportunity 
The panelists for the evening were Bob Bell (surgeon, healthcare advocate), Garth Smith (Director of Industry Relations at OBI), Sandy Schwenger (CEO at m-Health solutions and PatientCare Solutions), and Christopher Yip (Dean – Applied Science and Engineering, UofT). The panel was led by Vivek Goel (Vice President – Research, Innovation, and Strategic Initiatives) and the discussion offered diverse perspectives on the barriers in translating innovations to humans and touched upon the opportunities of translational research.   
“We have to be disruptive in health care, because if we aren’t being disruptive then we won’t go forward,” said Sandy Schwenger, CEO at m-Health solutions and PatientCare Solutions. Schwenger, who has a background in healthcare and strategic advice, brought perspectives from the frontlines of patient care and policy while outlining some of the challenges that surround translating research to inform treatment options.   
“There’s not a stone I’ve left unturned, but I still don’t know who to go to for adopting a new innovation.” Sandy believes that it is essential to try every avenue when adopting novel knowledge into the realm of healthcare. “We have to innovate and not go backward.”  
Dr. Bob Bell, a former surgeon and a current advocate for universal, sustainable and excellent care, believes that “innovation isn’t magic, there is a process.” Canadian innovation finds global reception while they face barriers in breaking into the Canadian market. Bob is a firm believer in using some of the taxpayer money to bring innovations to the Canadian market will not only help improve healthcare but also provide an incentive for our talent to remain in Canada. He has recently written a novel “HIP”, a medical thriller novel with all proceeds helping to fund cancer research at Princess Margret Cancer Research Centre 
“In a great world you wouldn’t have to go to another country to hear about innovations in your own country,” said Garth Smith, Director of Industry Relations at OBI, when discussing that a lot of Canadian innovations find buyers outside of Canada. He hopes that in the future, our healthcare and funding systems would change for the better to retain Canadian innovations for the betterment of our country.  
“Economic modeling in healthcare is very hard. Healthcare does have a sandbox to learn and fail, but it’s a very expensive sandbox.” Dr. Smith agrees that failure is an essential steppingstone to innovation, but we do not have enough funding to fail often. He is of the opinion that there is tremendous potential in the Canadian healthcare sector, all that remains is for this potential to be realized.  
Christopher Yip, Dean of the Faculty of Applied Sciences and Engineering at the UofT agreed with Garth that innovation requires leeway to fail. “At The Hatchery, we create opportunities and allow scope for failure, this is what led us to successfully launch the numerous start-ups that we have.” The Hatchery is a University of Toronto initiative to help budding talents realize their innovation’s worth. They create start-ups which give rise to sustainable solutions. 
Among all the barriers to innovation that were brought up at this session, the guest speakers highlighted the potential for innovations to make a considerable impact on patients and users of the health system. They also pointed to examples such as The Hatchery and accelerators that are meant to help health start-ups get up and running. For all the challenges and obstacles in the health landscape, there are supports to help overcome them.  
This TR Talk was one of a series of sessions hosted by the Translational Research Program in collaboration with the Health Innovation Hub (H2i). These Talks are open to the public and are geared towards interprofessional clinicians, researchers, and trainees to provoke discussion and community building. To learn more about the future TR Talks, please visit our website