AddThis Feed Button

Site menu:


Recent Comments


Site search

February 2010
« Jan   Mar »


The Future of Ontario's Health Care

Build them smaller? Build them greener? Build them with the future in mind. I had the opportunity to attend the Ontario Centre for Engineering and Public Policy’s (OCEPP) lecture on Engineers and the Future of Ontario’s Healthcsare System. The presentation was delivered by Dr. Kimberly Woodhouse, a chemical engineer, Dean of the Queen’s University Engineering Department and a strong supporter of biomedical engineering and it’s future in Ontario’s healthcare.

Her presentation was twofold, to talk about some of the biomedical trends with new tissues and their future in Ontario as well as the future of the infrastructure, the hospitals.

New Biomedical Technologies

Gate Analysis. Functional Electrical Stimulation. Tissue Engineering. It’s all part of the future of medicine, not just here in Ontario. These methods are all designed to be preventative, to predict what your future may hold.

Did you know that by placing electrodes on your legs, having you walk and running it through a computer model can help to identify when and where you might have degeneration in your knees? You could change how you walk just to preserve the life of your knee.

You can stimulate the brain through functional electrical stimulation and rewake the muscles in a paraplegic’s body. Imagine giving them their freedom back? Aside from the savings in health care look at the personal enjoyment you just gave someone back in their life.

Re-grow degenerative spinal discs. Create a functional gallbladder from stem cells. Develop a polymer that can beat like heart tissue. And this is just a short list of examples of what is to come.

How to design a future hospital

The hospitals of the future should be more sustainable. Not only should they draw less energy they should produce less garbage. They should move patients through the hospital more efficiently. There may even come a time where patient and doctor do not meet, that the conversation happens through a computer.

Most importantly the big campuses we build in the future must be built by a collaborative team. It will take doctors, engineers, mechanics, biologists, architects, technologists, etc to design the best and most efficient hospital. It should not be built as a band-aid to correct the mistakes of our previous hospitals; it should be innovative and design for the future. Remember the hospital we can build isn’t just here for today and the next few years, it will be a centre of treatment for the next forty to fifty years.


What stands in the way of a state of the art hospital? Most importantly costs. It will not come with a small price tag to build for the future. But that initial upfront cost of the innovative hospital over a lifetime should be less than a traditional energy-sucking, inefficient traditional hospital.

Another barrier is sources. Sources of tissue. Unfortunately it takes quite a lot of work to grow just a small amount of new tissue. We aren’t currently able to do this in mass-production. Add to that the current best source of stem cells is the placenta and now fewer of these are being donated to science. (Dr. Woodhouse joked casually to look up recipes online. I think I should be afraid!)

Another potential barrier is our lack of planning. Planning doesn’t happen over the forty to fifty-year time frame, it happens in four-year, election blocks. Although the politicians may change, the doctors, engineers, architects and patients will be in it for the duration.

What will the future look like?

There will come a time when we no longer head off to our family doctor. Instead from a different clinic, we’ll have our blood pressure, heart rate, ears and eyes checked. This will all be diagnosed electronically and sent to your physician. Instead of a visit there will be a note on your file. You will be able to get into your electronic file and look at the results.

Of course for acute care and serious disease people will still need to see a specialist. But instead of waiting all that time in a family doctors office, you’ll be able to take the middleman out and just go to your specialist.

Emergency rooms will triage patients differently. Already with some e-health infrastructure the number of hospital visits will decrease.

Car crash and other similar victims will be able to have surgery to repair their broken limbs. new bone and other tissues will be grown in your body to replace the broken. Dr. Woodhouse commented on the increased healthcare costs due to psychological treatments to patients to have great facial damage. Understandably if you weren’t confident in how you looked, especially with damage to your face, you would need some support.

To Plan For the Future Hospital

It will take entrepreneurs, bold thinkers and a government that is not afraid to take a risk. It will be a greener, leaner building. The old, inefficient hospitals can hopefully be a thing of our past. Innovate, educate, involve and you a project can evolve.