Healthcare is central to the Canadian economy, accounting for 11.5% of Canada’s GDP in 2019. In late 2020, COVID-19-related health funding announcements by Canadian governments surpassed $29 billion, driven by spending on personal protective equipment, screen capacity, labour compensation, and spending for vulnerable populations.1 Key cost drivers like population growth and age are likely to increase demand for healthcare services and healthcare spending further in the coming years. Technology adoption and the shift to digital could help mitigate these trends while improving access to care and enabling higher-value care models. Telehealth, virtual care, and wearable devices were embraced over the course of the pandemic to meet the demand for distance health, but moving forward, they have the potential to improve access to healthcare and lower costs for patients in rural and remote areas.

At the same time, the health system faces ongoing pressure to adopt new equipment and technology for improving healthcare administration and delivery. For example, while machine learning (ML) and big data applications in healthcare are still only in their infancy, the rapid proliferation of clinical trials and pilot projects — and the increasing sophistication of these applications — point to an exciting future. In this report, ICTC details these and other key trends in health technology. Included is the impact of centralized health records on data management and patient access to data; the growth of telehealth services over the course of the pandemic; the use of wearables, sensors, and cloud technology in-patient monitoring; and the use big data, ML, and AI for drug discovery and clinician support. Further, a dataset of 1202 health technology companies operating in Canada is used to identify key industry groups (e.g., pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, health technology systems, healthcare devices and supplies, healthcare services, and software) and verticals (e.g., health tech, technology, media, and telecommunications (TMT), digital health, life sciences, and AI and ML).

Together, these trends point to increasing demand for digitally skilled labour across the healthcare sector in the coming years. A recent projection by ICTC estimates that demand for digitally skilled labour in the health and biotechnology industry will reach 119,000 by 2022. This report explores the labour market needs resulting from technology trends in the healthcare sector. Of importance are the key roles and skill sets required in different kinds of health technology companies. Various types of health tech companies require medical advisors, software engineers, and full stack developers, as well as data-focused roles like machine learning engineers, data scientists, and data analysts. Meanwhile, product development teams require project managers, designers, and quality assurance professionals, and biotechnology companies require applied scientists and computational scientists. In addition, a key finding in this report is the need for interdisciplinary teams (integrating tech and health backgrounds).

Demand for digitally skilled talent will undoubtedly be moderated by technology adoption trends in healthcare organizations, making adoption an important part of this study. Healthcare organizations are both the clients and customers of health technology companies, and the tech implementation team. The third section of this report situates Canada in the global health tech adoption landscape and identifies domestic regional trends. Canada currently lags its international counterparts in most adoption trends and indicators. Within Canada, geographic differences in health technology adoption are primarily due to urban-rural divides rather than interprovincial and territorial regulatory landscapes. Key barriers to adoption are identified, including complex regulatory environments, cost-based rather than value-based procurement processes, outdated physician compensation models, organizational cultures of resistance, and a lack of capacity compounded by the pandemic. “Calls to Action” to address these and other challenges are discussed throughout the report.

A first-of-its kind study, this report unravels Canada’s evolving healthcare landscape as technology becomes a mainstay of our shared, and largely digital, future. Ensuring health security and delivering higher-value care models for improved patient outcomes requires frameworks that are responsive to current needs, a talent pipeline that is robust, and a focus on technology implementation and equity. Responsive and timely regulation in areas like healthcare data use and privacy is key, as is the development of a skilled and interdisciplinary talent base. Coupled with procurement and funding mechanisms that support innovation, technology adoption, and pan- Canadian access to services, Canada’s digital health future is bright.

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To cite this report:

Hamoni, R.; Matthews, M.; and Watson, M. “Digital Transformation: The Next Big Leap in Healthcare,” August 2021. Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC). Ottawa, Canada.

Designed by Raymond Brand.

The opinions and interpretations in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.