Meet the Innovators

A letter from the Winnipeg Health Region

Winnipeg Health Region President & CEO
Wave, January / February 2014

Arlene Wilgosh
Arlene Wilgosh

The Winnipeg Health Region has a number of people committed to fostering and leading innovation within our health-care system.

One of them is Dan Skwarchuk. As Senior Executive Director of Quality and System Performance, Dan is responsible for keeping tabs on various initiatives to ensure we are maximizing their potential across the Region. As such, he is well-positioned to see how different interventions in different areas within the Region affect the delivery of health care.

So when we decided to feature some of these initiatives in this issue of Wave as a way of highlighting innovation within our health-care system, we naturally turned to Dan for his input. He, in turn, canvassed Region staff members for projects that are making a difference in the delivery of care.

The result was a lengthy catalogue of initiatives spanning the range of activities that take place every day within the Winnipeg Health Region. And from that, we pulled together a list of seven initiatives that will enhance the delivery of care during the next 12 months and beyond.

In pulling together this list, we did not set about trying to come up with the "best" or most "important" initiatives. Rather, we tried to come up with a sampling of initiatives that would give readers some insight into the kind of innovative thinking that goes on every day in a bid to make the health-care system work better for everyone.

As I have noted in this space before, innovation is key to building an effective and financially sustainable health-care system. That's why innovation is one of the key commitments in our Mission, Vision, Values and Commitments statement and an integral component of our strategic plan.
Of course, different people will have different ideas about what constitutes innovation. Here at the Region, we define innovation as a process that harnesses the power of ideas to enhance the delivery of care or promote healthy lifestyles.

In some cases, that will mean creating new internal processes for caring for patients. The effort to reorganize patient flow at the Misericordia Health Centre's Buhler Eye Care Centre is a case in point, as is the decision to change the way staff deal with patients at Health Sciences Centre's psychiatric unit.

In other cases, it might mean identifying new ways to encourage people to take more control of their own health by adopting changes in lifestyle. The Hans Kai project in northwest Winnipeg is one example of that kind of innovation, as is the program out of the Wellness Institute at Seven Oaks Hospital that teaches people with diabetes how to use exercise to help control their condition.

The emphasis on community-based programs and encouraging people to become more engaged in managing their health cannot be overstated. By helping people help themselves, these programs have the potential to contain future costs associated with the treatment of chronic diseases. But they also help support the Region's efforts to promote health equity - the need to ensure that people from all walks of life have access to health-care and disease-prevention initiatives.

The effort now underway to screen First Nations residents for kidney disease in their home communities is a good example of how these twin goals can help drive innovation. The initiative, known as the First Nations Community Based Screening to Improve Kidney Health and Prevent Dialysis (FINISHED), is a major undertaking with the potential to have a huge impact on the health of people living in remote communities throughout Manitoba.

As our story points out, nearly 3,000 people in 11 communities will be screened over the next two years.

The fact that Aboriginal people in Manitoba have high rates of kidney disease has been well-documented. By screening residents in their own communities, the FINISHED team hopes to get a head start in diagnosing people at risk, with a view to beginning treatment sooner. In doing so, it is hoped that some of these people will be able to avoid the need to undergo dialysis or a kidney transplant.

What is really interesting about the innovations underway within the Region is that they are almost always driven by staff.

As Dan notes in the story, "We have an amazing workforce of very bright people with lots of great ideas. They know what needs to change. We're listening to what they have to say."

That's what happened with the FINISHED project, which was conceived and developed as a joint effort between the Diabetes Integration Project and some Manitoba Renal Program nephrologists. And that's also what we did when Dr. Ryan Zarychanski approached us a while ago about the need to look for ways to expedite the process used to deliver blood for massive transfusions.

A multi-disciplinary team of health professionals, including Zarychanski, undertook a months-long review of the process. That 30-member team included members of the staff at Health Sciences Centre, University of Manitoba, Canadian Blood Services and Diagnostics Services Manitoba. The result of their work is a new system for delivering blood that is being tested this month and is expected to go live this spring.

Projects like these are inherently complicated to carry out, especially for health-care staff who are already very busy. That's why we are increasingly turning to process engineers like Laurie Gosselin, who managed the blood transfusion project. Specially trained in industrial systems design, process engineers are commonly involved in tackling major production issues in the manufacturing sector. More recently, large health organizations such as ours have been using process engineers to help solve some of the challenges associated with improving the delivery of care. In fact, we are currently looking to the University of Manitoba's Faculty of Engineering to see if they can accommodate our need for process engineers specializing in healthcare systems.

Moving forward, we here at the Region will continue to look for other ways to support innovation in health care. We are, indeed, fortunate to have a staff dedicated to seeking out new ways to deliver services more effectively and efficiently. Their commitment to coming up with innovative ways to do things better can only lead to better care for all.

Wave: January / February 2014

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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