Thoughts from Students
In the mental healthcare and technology deep dive, mental healthcare leaders Amos Adler from MEMOTEXT, Ronen Benin of Avail, Shahira Rhimani from MaRS, and Christine Zhu from Elizz explored the “commercialization valley of death” as it relates to developing innovative, technology-based solutions to mental health challenges. The imperative for technologies such as this is clear: an estimated 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health problem or illness. Inadequate funding relative to the high rate of mental illness requires innovative solutions.
Each of the speakers began by explaining how success can be defined in healthcare innovation. Amos Adler from MEMOTEXT explained that one key success factor is the ability to distinguish between a clinical success and a commercial success. Although a product may be clinically validated, there are many obstacles that can prevent it from becoming a commercial success and being able to see the big picture is important. Other key success factors discussed were product adoption, personalization of digital content, identification of unmet needs, and collaboration among diverse groups.
The panel also discussed inhibitors to success. One inhibitor is the fact that products in the mental healthcare space must be proven to be clinically effective before even beginning to tackle commercial challenges. This means health innovations often fail to develop and commercialize beyond the pilot phase. Even in provinces like Ontario, where research and development capacity is high, the gap between innovation and implementation persists. A second problem that the panel identified was the distrust between industry and government, and the importance of consistent and effective communication between the two parties. A third identified inhibitor to success is related to society’s concerns about their privacy and the discomfort surrounding the replacement of human interaction in the healthcare space. When it comes to tackling these barriers, the “holy trinity of digital health” offers a helpful framework. It is comprised three components that must be considered when developing mental healthcare solutions: evidence (does it show efficacy); adoption (how does it fit into current workflows?) and reimbursement (who will pay?).
While the challenges are plentiful, it is useful to remember that Canada is home to some of the most innovative companies and start-ups, with forward-thinking individuals who aspire to disrupt the status quo. With more multidisciplinary discussions, we will be able to mitigate the gap between innovation and implementation.
Written by Mark O'Reilly (Western University), Victoria Wiebe (McMaster University), Amika Shah (University of Toronto) & Jerry Ding (University of Toronto)