March 4, 2021

The future of health is digital

Illustration by Scott Carmichael

Digital health is about the transformation of care delivery – surrounding Albertans with the health and wellness resources they need, where and when they need them. Through the use of digital technologies including mobile applications, electronic medical records, artificial intelligence, wearable devices and more, digital health empowers Albertans to improve their health outcomes. This technology is changing the way we interact with our doctors, diagnose and treat diseases, and train medical professionals, ensuring a healthier future for our province. Many such technologies are being developed by innovators right here in Alberta and resulting in a growing digital health economy leading to jobs, revenue and exports.

Over the past year, digital health solutions have become more widely adopted. This is partially due to some important policy changes like an adjusted schedule of medical benefits to extend coverage for virtual appointments, enabling more family physicians to offer video or phone appointments. Alberta-based companies are also pivoting to meet the important needs of the health system.

Digital health has the potential to impact every area of health care. Here are just a few of the digital health initiatives being supported by Alberta Innovates.

Supporting fast and accurate diagnosis

Diagnostic tools powered by artificial intelligence are helping healthcare practitioners quickly and correctly identify potentially life-threatening medical conditions and deploy necessary treatments. Strokes are the third leading cause of death in Canada, and many of those who survive are left with long-term disabilities. Large vessel occlusions (LVOs) are a particularly serious type of stroke, in which one of the major arteries supplying blood to the brain is blocked. LVOs can be successfully treated with endovascular therapy to remove the blockage, but the treatment is only effective if administered as soon as possible.

Alphastroke, an artificial intelligence-powered electroencephalography (EEG) device developed by Forest Devices, can detect LVO stokes with an accuracy rate of more than 80%, significantly better than current diagnostic tools. The EEG device is designed to be used by emergency medical services on route to hospital, meaning that patients can be directed to one of the province’s comprehensive stroke centres and receive life-saving care as quickly as possible. Forest Devices, founded in Pennsylvania, is currently collaborating with Alberta Health Services to accelerate the development and deployment of the technology.

How Alberta Innovates supports this project: $300,000 for a feasibility study of the Alphastroke device in a real-world setting to assess its integration with EMS daily operations and performance in the field, and to evaluate its diagnostic accuracy and impacts to patient and system-level outcomes.

Partners: Forest Devices, Alberta Health Services, University of Calgary, Institute of Health Economics

Training medical professionals

In the world of medical training, nothing beats hands-on experience. It’s why clinical placements are such a key part of how we educate nurses and doctors. However, the transition from classroom to clinical setting can be a challenge. Virtual reality applications are helping to bridge the gap, allowing future medical professionals to work through simulated, real-world experiences.

ICOM Productions and Bow Valley College are collaborating to create a Virtual Reality Focused Assessment (VRFA) Tool, which allows nursing students to conduct assessments on patients with various medical conditions they may encounter in their clinical placements. The VFRA is able to track the steps the students take during the assessment process and grade their performance, preparing them for work in real laboratory settings.

How Alberta Innovates supports this project: $250,000 to develop multiple scenarios for the VRFA platform, test and validate the scenarios in a real-world setting, and commercialize the platform within Alberta and beyond.

Partners: ICOM Productions and Bow Valley College

Supporting mental health

Digital health has come to the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many Albertans opt for telemedicine health appointments rather than visiting the doctor’s office in person. But supporting Albertans’ mental health during the ongoing stress of the pandemic is also a priority, so Alberta Health Services collaborated with Togetherall to provide Albertans ages 16+ access to a digital, peer-to-peer support community. Moderated by clinical counsellors and trained helpers, Togetherall provides a platform for Albertans to connect, as well as an access point for self-guided resources including assessments, courses, self-help journaling and goal-setting tools.

How Alberta Innovates supports this project: The A pRoject Ethics Community Consensus Initiative (ARECCI) review process through Alberta Innovates provided relevant feedback and suggestions to strengthen the Togetherall evaluation project and overall improvement of our project’s ethical soundness.

Partners: Togetherall and Government of Alberta