Dr. Catherine Burns is the Chair in Human Factors in Health Care Systems and leads the University of Waterloo’s health initiatives. She is an expert in human-centred approaches to the design and implementation of advanced health-care technologies.

Burns also heads Waterloo's Transformative Health Technologies initiative, a collaboration spanning all faculties and the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. We asked her how we can redesign our health systems to create better patient outcomes and more equitable access to care.

Catherine Burns

Dr. Catherine Burns
Professor, Faculty of Engineering
> Associate Vice-President, Health Initiatives 
> Canada Research Chair in Human Factors in Healthcare Systems 

Opinion by Dr. Burns

Canadian health care is facing a perfect storm of challenges including escalating costs, a shortage of health-care professionals and the increasing needs of a diverse and aging population. The COVID-19 pandemic merely exposed existing cracks in Canada’s health-care system. The pandemic has been a stress test of this system — “a canary in the coal mine,” the results of which should concern us all.

Reduced health services and the struggle to train and retain health professionals will become a chronic problem if not urgently addressed. As we look to build new hospitals, medical schools and long-term care homes over the next decade, a radical transformation is required now to support the health services and care Canadians need and deserve.

We have solutions available

Health technology provides a solution that is ready for exploration and can meet the faster timescale needed to solve the challenges of our health-care system. The good news is that many health technologies, such as virtual care, point-of-care diagnostics, remote patient monitoring and assisted living devices are already here and present a significant opportunity to relieve health service backlogs and improve patient care.

For example, remote health sensing and assisted living technologies are in trials today at the University of Waterloo and are being tested in collaboration with long-term care homes. The Velocity incubator supports health technology companies like Vena Medical and Membio to bring new medical devices into hospitals and operating rooms. Collaborating for impact is what we do best. Waterloo has partnered with local hospitals, care homes and the Northern Ontario School of Medicine University to advance research by taking it out of the lab and into the hands of health-care providers.

The path forward is not without challenges, but we have shown it can be done. Waterloo is a leader in developing transformative health technologies because we are not only training the next generation of technologists and entrepreneurs, but we also work within a collaborative ecosystem that engages partners to bring new technology to bear. When the tech community works closely with health-care providers — listening and adapting to their needs — health innovation leads the way.

Our focus needs to be on investment and collaboration so that health technologies can be implemented for real-world impact. This requires an evolution in Canada’s regulation and procurement pathways to allow innovations to demonstrate safety and efficacy — and ultimately be adopted.

We can have a future where technology empowers our health professionals in the care they provide through better monitoring and point-of-care diagnostics. And we can have a future that allows services currently only offered in hospitals to be available in people’s homes and in the geographical locations where they are happier living. This technology is ready to change our world — we must work together to implement health innovations and transform the future of health care in Canada.

Hear more about Waterloo's transformative health technologies