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5 Years of ImagineNation: What We’ve Learned

Posted on March 31, 2016 by Fraser Ratchford

Dr. Peter Diamandis, CEO of X PRIZE Foundation, doesn’t build rockets. But, he may be the reason any civilians have a chance of going to outer space. Dr. Diamandis created the Ansari X Prize, which challenged teams or individuals to develop a commercial spacecraft using new ideas and innovations.

Five years ago, Canada Health Infoway launched the ImagineNation Challenges. The intention was not to travel to space, but rather to transport Canadian health care into the future. Now, after 10 challenges, we are proud to be celebrating our five year anniversary and to look back at what has been achieved and what we’ve learned.

Canadians have ideas, and stories, and skills: We dipped our toe in the water with the Ideas Challenge in 2011. We asked Canadians for their best ideas for digital health and health care. In just six weeks, thousands of Canadians submitted their ideas and voted on their favourites. The positive response showed us that Canadians are passionate about health care and eager to contribute.

This was validated further when we asked Canadians to share how their personal and professional lives had been affected by digital health in the Patient, Career and Business Impact Challenges. Again, they responded with gusto, and we were moved by the stories they told us.
Most recently, we tapped the collective brainpower of authorized users of health data in two Data Impact Challenges. We asked them to answer important health and health care questions with existing data, and their responses furnished real, usable evidence for policymakers, which compressed the time it usually takes to undertake such research.

Even grown-ups like to play: When we challenged health care organizations to adopt key digital health technologies, we knew the monetary awards would be a big motivator. But we learned from participating teams that it wasn’t all about money.

As Raza Abidi, a Data Impact Challenge team leader from Halifax, told us, “our motivation was to compete with the best … and showcase our work.”

The friendly competition created by the Challenges inspired teams to focus on the goal of increasing the use of digital health, and to push themselves. “When the Challenge came along, and the physicians and [other] clinicians got behind it to push us to be number one in the Challenge, it pushed [adoption] farther and faster,” said Dave Sellers, Director of Operations for West Carleton Family Health Team in Carp, Ontario.  

It only takes a nudge: We found that with a little external encouragement from something like a Challenge, health organizations are often enthusiastic to innovate.

Dr. Sanjeev Goel, Lead Clinician at Wise Elephant Family Health Team in Brampton, Ontario said “the Outcomes Challenge was the impetus for us to start a patient portal, and we’re glad we did. Not only are [patients] happy, but it’s making our lives simpler at the clinic and our workflow is much improved.”

And, according to Krystyna Hommen from Excelleris in Burnaby, British Columbia, the Challenge inspired her team to “pay really close attention to [their] statistics … to spend a little more time actually looking at how people are using the system.”

A little appreciation goes a long way: The Challenges provided an opportunity to give credit where it’s due. The Public Health Social Media Challenge invited public health organizations to use innovative social media tools to achieve their public health objectives.

Todd Robson from the Sudbury & District Health Unit told us, “this Challenge allowed those of us working in public health to take a daring step outside of our usual comfort zones and really take a chance.”

The 29 social media campaigns that entered the Challenge displayed the breadth and depth of creativity among public health professionals across the country. Many teams told us that recognition from the Challenge was a validation of their work, which they appreciated.

It’s a sharing economy: Much of what we’ve been able to do in the last five years has been achieved with the help of a strong community of innovators. From patients sharing their ideas and stories, to the Challenge teams competing and then sharing their best practices with each other, to the many volunteer judges who evaluated entries, to the Supporting Organizations that spread the word and provided their advice, they all played a role in the success we celebrate today.

Just as the successful X Prize was a creative step towards making space travel available for all, we hope the ImagineNation Challenges have inspired all of us to think of bold new ways to use innovation to explore new frontiers in health and health care.

Please view our anniversary video and join us in celebrating 5 years of the ImagineNation Challenges! Post your comments and let us know what you think.

Have a comment about this post? We’d love to hear from you.

fratchford 240Fraser Ratchford is a Senior Director at Canada Health Infoway and works with Infoway’s partners to electronically connect citizens to their health information, to their care team, and to other virtual health services and tools. Prior to his role at Infoway, Fraser held a number of leadership positions in health care. His major focus over the past 30 years has been digital health, working in various sectors including government, hospital and public health.

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