Health care: More pain, more gain

Written by Eleanor Beaton

First, consider this: health-care spending in Canada is huge — $171.9 billion in 2008, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. And it’s in a sustained boom. Public-sector health spending leapt by 38% between 2003 and 2008 — and will continue to soar with Ottawa’s commitment to boost health-care transfers to the provinces by 6% per year through fiscal 2014.

Now, take a moment to picture the wall-to-wall filing cabinets in your doctor’s office, filled to the brim with paperwork. Put these two realities of big money and inefficiencies together, and you have one rosy outlook. “This is a huge industry, and it’s filled with opportunities,” says Pamela Fralick, president and CEO of the Canadian Healthcare Association.

For starters, the country has spent $3 billion of federal money over five years developing electronic health records to make health data more accessible than ever before. “The question is, now that you have all this information, what else can you do with it?” says Stephen Jones, a partner at Toronto-based RPO Management Consultants, whose specialties include health care. Canada Health Infoway, the project’s manager, has its hands full bringing the e-records to fruition, so there’s room for entrepreneurs to innovate here.

Fralick says there’s a need for software to merge information from lab orders, electronic prescriptions or doctors’ notes into patients’ e-records. Applications to remove personal patient information and allow scientists to search data will also be in demand from a research community eager to get its hands on an unprecedented volume of information. Another niche? Providing service, maintenance and support as the health-care sector deals with the growing pains of going digital.

The continuing shifts to community-based and multidisciplinary care are also opening up new possibilities, says Isser Dubinsky, associate director at Hay Group Health Care Consulting in Toronto. Health-care providers are increasingly delivering the care in community-based clinics rather than hospitals. At the same time, specialists in various fields are teaming up so that, for example, dietitians, exercise therapistsand other specialists will collaborate on how best to treat a diabetes patient. These twin shifts will play out over many years to come. That means there’s plenty of latitude for you to open, say, a multidisciplinary clinic specializing in heart disease that would charge doctors an administration fee to set up shop there.

Just remember, advises Dubinsky, to tread carefully with physicians, who are an independent-minded lot: “It’s a little like owning a GM plant, but with each worker on the line deciding which kind of car he or she wants to build on any given day.” Take the time to consult with doctors on any key decisions about the clinic.

The possibilities don’t end there. After a decades-long trend to disposable products, the health-care industry is looking to go green. Eco-friendly health care is spreading into Canada after gaining momentum stateside, due in large part to advocacy by an Arlington, Va.-based organization called Practice Greenhealth. This is creating demand for biodegradable or reusable medical products. But keep in mind the hectic pace and brutal workloads common in health care. “You don’t want to make it too onerous to reuse products,” says Fralick.

Jones points to yet another opportunity: shortages of doctors and nurses, and the move to community-based care, are spurring interest among health-care providers in using targeted communications technologies such as videoconferencing to deliver care remotely. And because health-care professionals need to stay on top of a torrent of new information, professional education remains a strong growth area. But hands-on training is so fundamental to the health professions that you should take care to position your education services as a complement to, not a replacement for, existing training programs.

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