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The Future of Our City: Health Care
How Torontonians will practice medicine in 2050 - Part 5 of a 5 part series

Rendering of Sunnybrook Health Centre’s renovation project

Charting a course to 2050 is going to be a daunting task for any city. Over the next few weeks, Justin Robertson will be placing a microscope on Toronto’s key industries and institutions that will be shaped by the predicted population growth facing the city in a series called “The Future of Our City.” The five-part series will examine how the city will be impacted by the aging population, the future of cars and transit and solutions to traffic congestion, and how the face of education and learning environments will change.

This week: We examine the changing health care sector.

Innovation within Toronto’s health industry will become crucial to the development of new technologies and treatments as we hurtle toward 2050. Health pundits say we need to pour our efforts into procedures that are non-invasive, do not require surgery and can reduce recovery time and stays in hospital through digital imaging technologies. The Council of Academic Hospitals of Ontario (CAHO) is an association of Ontario’s 24 academic hospitals and their research institutes and are inventing the future of health care by developing new standards of patient care, evolving models of health care education, and conducting world-class health research.

Consider this: the 24 academic hospitals conduct more than 80 per cent of Ontario’s publicly funded health research; they represent the 4th largest biomedical research centre in North America and are home to more than 10,000 researchers; they train more than 80 per cent of undergraduate medical students, 90 per cent of Ontario’s medical residents and 99 per cent of Ontario’s clinical fellows; and conduct 100 per cent of transplants, 83 per cent of neurosurgeries, and 78 per cent of cardiac surgeries in Ontario. Ontario’s research hospitals are home to world-class researchers, driving a health innovation engine that creates better and more efficient care for patients. Right now, we couldn’t be better placed with health innovation which can only lead to discoveries and efficient ways to treat patients as we move forward into the future.

Earlier this month, David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, opened a brand new Centre for Research in Image-Guided Therapeutics at Sunnybrook. The $160-million facility was the latest step in advancing treatments and an effort to eliminate devastating diseases. The open-concept 150,000 sq. ft space will host more than 300 research teams on two floors and will encourage collaboration.

Dr. Michael Julius, vice president of research at Sunnybrook Hospital said this move spawns from decades of work.

“We need this infrastructure to accommodate research,” he said. “We are attempting to build a new kind of health care system. And what this does, it’s where meetings of minds come together. It enables scientists and teams to intermingle and share information rapidly.”

The $160 million lab facility is a heavy investment; one worth every penny. 80 per cent of medical research is conducted through hospital enterprise in North America. Hospitals like Sunnybrook, are making discoveries and are digging deeper into innovation. With the new facility, it’s likely to happen more frequently.

But what is medical success? In the public’s minds, if doctors don’t find a cure for a disease, it’s probably considered a failure. Dr. Julius said, however, technology is creating better ways to treat patients, which is what we can expect to see in the future: slick and improved methods of treatment via the latest technology.

One example he gave was surgery through high intensity ultrasound. Remember that childhood microscope you used to burn blades of grass with sun’s rays? Soundwaves act in a similar fashion, but without radiation. Basically trials have begun where these soundwaves can start treating brain tumours without breaking the skin. Treating these types of delicate operations will improve and patients will have an improved survival rate. With improved technology comes faster recovery time. Dr. Julius said women who have to go through the painful uterin fibroid operation will notice, in the future, quicker recovery. Instead of a five-day hospital stay, plus two weeks of bed rest, women will walk in and have the operation in an hour and be back on their sail boat the next day — thanks to high-tech soundwaves.

Success, too, is what doctors and physicians discover in treatment plans. For example, when someone is diagnosed with Cancer, every patients follow this exact and same regime: you undergo chemotherapy for six, eight or 12 weeks. After that the patient returns to check for positive or negative impact. In the future cancer patients will see new individualized treatment plans. In the future, doctors will know after seven days whether or not patients are responding to chemotherapy. If they aren’t then they can change the treatment plan.

“In the future every cancer patient will have a different personalized treatment routine,” Dr. Julius said. “In the next 20-25 years, it’ll become less of a guessing game in what treatment is best.”

As technology improves so too does the medical world. A Canadian Healthcare technology publication reported that Intensive Care Units (ICU) across North America are slowly going more digital. A new monitoring system, designed to help hospitals that are under-staffed, is called eICU and is already up and running in the US and some parts of Ontario. It allows physicians to track and respond to patients in remote places. Once patients leave ICU the system then tracks rate of mortality and length of stay.

Chris Paterson, spokesperson for Council of Academic Hospitals said innovation is the key to success in the health industry moving into the future.

“These technologies can be applied to early detection of other conditions, again faster, better and cheaper, and, innovation increases the likelihood of attracting and retaining the world’s brightest to Ontario,” he said. “Medical research is critical to Ontario’s economy where highly skilled human capital will shape our ability to produce superior knowledge and attract investment.”

One example of  local innovation that Paterson points to, that highlights Toronto’s medical movement forward into the future, is the clinical research study in robotics therapy for children with cerebral palsy at Holland Bloorview. 

The exciting two-and-a-half year clinical research study,  co-led by Dr. Darcy Fehlings and Dr. Virginia Wright, is the first known randomized trial to evaluate the impact of robotic assisted gait training for children with cerebral palsy. This study, will allow Holland Bloorview to use robotic therapy, specifically with the state-of-the-art robotic device known as the Pediatric Lokomat.

“We need to raise the quality of care while reducing costs,” Paterson said. “Innovation is the key to improving patient care — It’s the key to discovery.”

Technology seems to be galloping away at great speeds. It’s pivotal that the health industry tries to keep pace with high-tech methods. Sunnybrooks’ latest investment and others like it are the key to not only efficient treatment, but there is hope cures can be found from these collaborative urban incubators. Success for the health industry in the near future won’t come in miracle cures or discoveries but in the form of better treatment and less abrasive forms of surgery for patients. But further down the road, with the increased investment in innovation, success could mean a cure for cancer or the end of diabetes.

____

Justin Robertson is a freelance journalist from Toronto. His work has appeared in The Walrus, National Post and Toronto Standard. Follow Justin on Twitter @justinjourno

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