Wednesday 12 December 2018

Canadian health challenges in sights of Irish innovators

'For Canadians, the burning question is how to overcome access and capacity issues facing their system, and ensure it remains something to be proud of.' Stock picture
'For Canadians, the burning question is how to overcome access and capacity issues facing their system, and ensure it remains something to be proud of.' Stock picture

Marianna Costello

Few things instil greater national pride in Canadians than their universal healthcare system, grounded in the principle of accessibility without financial barriers. Indeed, Canadians benefit from some of the best facilities in the world, free of charge.

Nevertheless, Canada's system faces significant challenges and consumes government budgets at a rate considered unsustainable by most. One in six Canadians are aged 65 years or older, with the bracket growing four times faster than the overall population.

Canada also has some of the highest chronic disease rates globally and its vast geography makes it difficult to service rural communities.

Ireland is positioned as one of the world's top medtech hubs, creating products that improve patient outcomes and enhance healthcare.

Earlier this summer, eight Enterprise Ireland-backed companies travelled to Toronto, pitching solutions to health experts and potential partners. These stakeholders offered valuable insights on how best to approach the market.

As healthcare is managed provincially in Canada, companies can almost consider each province as a distinct market. Ontario is usually first port-of-call for ambitious businesses.

But Matthew Collingridge of GE Healthcare Canada, advised: "Opportunities may be easier to navigate in Alberta, British Columbia or the Atlantic provinces, where healthcare is administered vertically, and systems can be nimbler. With a proven use-case, a pan-Canada approach can then be built."

Healthcare providers in Canada often struggle to advance projects to long-term implementations. The outcome is frustrating for both innovators and for forward-thinking health practitioners and executives who see the benefit.

Irish companies need to clearly demonstrate the return-on-investment their product delivers in terms of costs and time, and should consider how much change management is involved, especially for clinicians.

Established players tend to be perceived as the safest option for buyers. For example, the electronic record sector is dominated by a few vendors in Canada. Technology companies should consider how to compete with these players. Partnering is one option, which can allow Irish companies to access public funding for health innovation projects.

"The challenge is finding enough of a niche to avoid taking on the big players, and enough runway to make it worthwhile," noted Collingridge.

Several Irish healthcare companies have successfully grown their business in Canada. Dublin-based Two-Ten Health supplies four of the country's ten dental schools with their electronic record system.

Last year, the Ontario College of Pharmacists selected Pharmapod to implement a medication error reporting system in 1500 pharmacies. Aerogen, Health Beacon, and Swiftqueue are also making gains.

Canada is an attractive market for many reasons. Companies with experience in Ireland and the UK already understand the pain-points buyers encounter in a predominately public system. Case studies from the NHS are particularly well-received.

The reputation of Irish medicine in Canada is another advantage. Irish medical schools attract hundreds of Canadian students each year and thousands of Irish-trained doctors work in Canada.

Enterprise Ireland's Toronto office offers clients tailored market entry guidance and introductions to prospective partners and buyers across the system.

In mid-September, we are hosting senior executives from leading hospitals across North America for a two-day forum in Dublin. Collectively responsible for a catchment of 30 million people, they are keen to discuss common challenges and best practices with innovators.

For Canadians, the burning question is how to overcome access and capacity issues facing their system, and ensure it remains something to be proud of.

Marianna Costello is a market adviser for life sciences, based in Enterprise Ireland's Toronto office

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