Waterloo among members of new KW4Health Ontario Team

Friday, November 20, 2020
by Janet Janes

The University of Waterloo is one of more than 30 organizations, and the only educational institution, in Waterloo Region among a newly established network of health expertise announced by the Ontario Ministry of Health.

The KW4Health Ontario Team (OHT) is a collaboration that represents health providers in primary care, regional hospitals, long term care, and mental health in Kitchener, Waterloo and the Townships of Wellesley, Wilmot and Woolwich.

The network marks a major step in local health system transformation for the region and across Ontario to improve the patient and caregiver experience along with overall population health and better value for provincial health care dollars.

"This a tremendous milestone for Waterloo Region to escalate its activities in providing excellence in health care for both patients and providers, and most importantly connecting so many members of the health community into this Ontario Health Team,” says Charmaine Dean, Vice-President, Research and International, University of Waterloo. “We are pleased to be able to draw on our strengths in research across the University particularly in the areas of digital health, data, evaluation and quality improvement to support and contribute to the success of this essential and valuable network."

As a strategic partner, Waterloo’s research and expertise in mathematics, engineering, applied health sciences and through the School of Optometry & Vision Science and School of Pharmacy, will provide a unique view of healthcare to Waterloo Region in determining the best and most efficient ways to deliver care and evaluate performance.

Within a true living lab of innovation, researchers will collaborate with front-line workers, use artificial intelligence and health data analytics to aid in decision making, and consider how new technologies like 5G networks could support healthcare. The outcomes could mean increasing service to remote areas, more personalized care outside of traditional settings and virtualized care, and a better understanding of patterns in patients. Overall, it’s expected to lead to a more cost-effective system that offers better care and distributes services more effectively.

Stan Woo, Director of the School of Optometry & Vision Science at Waterloo, envisions more comprehensive, co-ordinated eye care for the region to alleviate the burden of eye surgeries and other procedures on hospitals when they could be done in a centralized area and blend research and innovation with patient care.

“A community as large as ours and as fast growing shouldn’t have to rely on centres outside the region like London and Toronto,” says Woo. “We have areas of expertise across faculties to address challenges and problems with our OHT partners. We can be a hub of new treatments and emerging technologies.”

This intertwined network of research, health care, and innovation could also lead to broader opportunities for students in clinical education or employment through research and on the front lines of patient care.

“It’s about answering the questions that need to be answered and it’s a commitment on everybody’s part,” says Catherine Burns, Executive Director, Health Initiatives and Sponsored Research. “We want to be the best and most innovative community in health care. I think the focus is on innovation and that momentum and spirit is really based on patient care.”

Once fully developed, the KW4 OHT will be accountable for the health outcomes and health care costs of approximately 400,000 people who reside in the region. With this announcement by the Ministry of Health, the KW4 now joins the nearby and already approved OHTs of Guelph and Area, and Cambridge-North Dumfries.