For several years, the Jewish General Hospital (JGH) has been pursuing genuine transformation in the way it delivers patient care. This has been done by implementing digital initiatives and technology that were funded, in part, by generous donors through the JGH Foundation. With the appointment of a Chief Digital Health Officer and a Chief Innovation Officer during the past three years, positive change is already well underway.

In this article, three experts shine a light on how the quality of patient care is getting even better through the use of digital technology at the JGH.

How is patient care changing through the introduction of digital technology?

Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg

Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg, President and CEO of CIUSSS West-Central Montreal

Over the past three years, I’ve been working on a strategic vision for the Jewish General Hospital and our CIUSSS. That vision is focused on “Care Everywhere” and it drives everything we do.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we were able to take advantage of certain digital technologies at the JGH to provide better care for discharged patients in what is called the “Hospital at Home” program. We monitored them at home in real time and remotely collected information about their vital signs, heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen saturation. Now we’re moving from exclusively COVID-19 patients to other types of patients—for example, those with heart failure or chronic pulmonary disease.

That’s not to say that no one needs to go to the Emergency Department any longer. However, at least 60% of those who go to Emergency probably wouldn’t do so if they had a better alternative. Similarly, most people who visit their family physician don’t necessarily need to meet face to face. This means we have to determine how to make the system more efficient for patients in terms of timely access to care. At the same time, the system has to become more efficient, so that caregivers, physicians and other allied healthcare professionals can focus on the people they need to deal with at the proper time.

Many facets of digital health need to be tested, optimized and revisited to make sure that things work the way we want them to work. It’s an iterative process. We want to conduct this transformation in such a way that the system becomes considerably more value-based, cost-effective and sustainable.

What are your top priorities in digital health?

Dr. Justin Cross

Dr. Justin Cross, Chief Digital Health Officer of CIUSSS West-Central Montreal

In my role, I’m responsible for ensuring that digital technology serves those who rely on it. Currently, we’re making a transition to new digital infrastructure including clinical software applications, data warehousing, telehealth, and cybersecurity. Thankfully, the JGH Foundation is supporting us and making it all possible from a funding perspective.

Our biggest area of activity is the work we’re doing in connection with a new electronic health record, which is a unified electronic patient chart. If, for example, you’re at the Jewish General Hospital and you get discharged to one of our CIUSSS’s long-term care facilities, it’s often hard to send all of your medical information to that facility. Having a single unified platform is going to be a major upgrade for our clinicians because they’ll be getting an improved tool to help them gain routine access to information. This, in turn, will result in better care and outcomes for patients.

Data is another area we’re focusing on. Whenever we try to analyze what’s happening at any particular moment within the JGH, a great deal of manual effort is required in order to pluck the specific information that we need from a mountain of data. This happens both with internal process analysis as well as the quality reporting that we share with the Ministry of Health and Social Services. With a more modern system that harmonizes the data from all sources, we’ll be able to get more advanced and predictive analytics that can identify and locate the patients who could derive the greatest benefit from particular services. At the same time, by using these new tools, we can get a bird’s-eye view of activities throughout the JGH and gain a better sense of how to increase efficiency.

How can more digital healthcare products be brought to market successfully?

Danina Kapetanovic

Danina Kapetanovic, Chief Innovation Officer and Head of OROT, the Connected Health Innovation Hub of CIUSSS West-Central Montreal

The healthcare system should have services and products that correspond to the needs of patients and healthcare staff. What we’re seeing in the market right now is a huge uptick in investment and in the creation of digital health technologies. Unfortunately, very few of them have made a significant difference to health care.

The creation of innovative digital health technologies begins with an idea, which is tested and developed, and then commercialized. The process ends when the innovation—often in the form of a new tool or product—arrives in the hands of users, who may be clinicians, patients or caregivers. However, the journey to the marketplace can be very treacherous: More than 95% of companies fail in the course of trying to serve the healthcare sector.

That’s where a healthcare facility like the JGH has a role to play. Who better to understand and provide a context for the kind of technology that needs to be developed? For this reason, we’ve opened ourselves up to collaboration with external researchers and entrepreneurs, who are allowed into our setting to work with a wide spectrum of patients and healthcare staff. By gaining clear insight into the real problems and obstacles, they can devise more useful and relevant products that lead to better patient care.

In order to shelter the projects resulting from these collaborations, we have created the Connected Health Innovation Hub, OROT (illumination in Hebrew). Basically, it’s a way to identify problems and then foster collaboration among industry and researchers. Our objective is to ensure that the next generation of digital health products will be of value to patients and healthcare staff alike, while transforming health care itself for the better.

The JGH Foundation has been our essential partner, having provided OROT with an initial push and then helping to set it up. Moving forward, the goal is to strengthen and expand this program, so that it will be self-sustaining and self-financing.