The University of Waterloo’s Velocity Incubator kicked off its Health Innovation Challenge on Tuesday. The 10-day hackathon is part of the Grand River Hospital Foundation’s Care Never Stops Week as it launches its $258-million Care Never Stops fundraising campaign.

The Health Innovation Challenge brings together talented problem-solvers from the university and leaders and staff from Grand River Hospital to develop solutions to some of the most pressing problems facing our health-care system. Moazam Khan, director of health tech at Velocity, said the challenge is an opportunity to work together to build the future of health care for Waterloo Region and the world. 

“We worked with the hospital and foundation to identify three problem areas for the challenge. They’re also coming in to host mentor hours and roundtables with the students as they work on developing their solutions to give operational-specific insights on how these solutions could be implemented at the hospital,” Khan said.

The Velocity and Grand River Hospital teams worked together to identify three problem areas for the challenge: waiting rooms, before and after care and support for aging populations. The wait-time challenge is not focused on reducing the time a patient spends in the waiting room. Instead the solutions focus on eliminating the need for waiting rooms, Khan said.

“If waiting rooms were eliminated, what could we do with that space? What other services could we provide?” he said.

While many teams will use technology as part of their solutions, Khan said improving processes is equally important. Each team brings together students from different faculties to take an interdisciplinary approach to developing solutions for the challenges.

“It’s not just a room of engineers. We have medical students from McMaster, students from the Faculty of Arts, Faculty of Health, and Faculty of Science engaged as well. Having that mixture of interdisciplinary students encourages them to look deep into why the problem exists,” Khan said.

Waterloo Region is known as a community that comes together to solve problems. Khan said that the Health Innovation Challenge builds on that history in a new way.

“This is the first time in Waterloo Region where we have a hospital actively participating in something like this. It’s very encouraging for young innovators and entrepreneurs to see these organizations working together. Everyone recognizes that we have to collectively work with our ecosystem partners to solve these problems that can potentially have a national impact,” Khan said.

The Health Innovation Challenge is just one of several Care Never Stops Week events. The University of Waterloo is hosting AI in Health on Wednesday, May 24. The free event features Tomi Poutanen, CEO and co-founder of Signal 1, discussing the role of AI in enhancing patient care. 

Paul McIntyre Royston, president & CEO at the Grand River Hospital Foundation, said the partnership with the University of Waterloo and Velocity are critical to creating a world-class health-care system in Waterloo Region.

“Health-care issues affect everyone at some point in their lives. That’s the power of this partnership with UW and the medtech community here. We want to open up the doors to foster the incredible innovation spirit in our community,” Royston said.

While Waterloo Region’s MedTech and life science ecosystems continue to grow, one noticeable absence is a medical school. Local leaders have pursued adding a medical school over the years, but Royston said not getting one has set up the region for success in other ways.

“I’m grateful that we didn’t because a medical school is more of a traditional approach. Globally, we’re facing this massive shortage of health-care workers and we need other solutions. We’re probably never going to have enough people to fulfill it in the way we’ve traditionally done. We need 21st-century medicine. That’s not a doctor engaging with the patient – it’s systemic. It’s leveraging new technologies to ensure patient care is there and that we can provide the best care possible,” Royston said.

Earlier this year, Grand River Hospital and St. Mary’s General Hospital began the process of identifying a site for a proposed new joint hospital campus. While the provincial government covers the costs of the hospital buildings, it is up to the hospitals to purchase medical and other equipment. Royston said the first problem in the Health Innovation Challenge – eliminating waiting rooms – is crucial to creating a hospital campus that can serve the region’s growing population.

“Do we really need to build a new hospital with a huge percentage of the floor space devoted to people just sitting in a waiting room? Hospital square footage is some of the most expensive square footage you can possibly build. So how do we make it easy for people not to ever have to go to the hospital? How can we help them at home or in some other way?” Royston said.

The innovations happening during Care Never Stops Week aren’t limited to inside the hospital. On Saturday, May 27, everyone in the community is invited to the first Rally for Health at the hospital’s Kitchener site on King Street West. The free event features food trucks, a drone show and performances from The Strumbellas, DJ Shub and the Ian Richards Project. Royston said the idea for the rally came from talking to the foundation’s donors, sponsors and partners.

“It seemed like a perfect fit. We need to come together more and we can’t think of a better reason. There will be food trucks, a kids area, music and a merch store with items that support the hospital and the health care,” Royston said.

The Rally for Health is the official start of the foundation’s Care Never Stops fundraising campaign to fund equipment for the current hospital and, eventually, the new campus. Royston said it is all part of a long-term plan to continue delivering the best care possible for people living in Waterloo Region.

“This is a great place to live with incredible companies, post-secondary institutions, natural environment and people. We want health to be in that top five list because we all deserve the level of care. That’s the call to action.”

You can learn more about the Care Never Stops Week events and register for the Rally for Health at