VIP4SCI, a collaborative new platform being developed in Markham, Ontario is one of the first projects to receive Ontario’s Health Technologies Fund.

Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) have world-class healthcare facilities that attract people from across Ontario. Ontario healthcare budgets are weighted to fund “larger hospitals and those in high growth areas and those that have highly specialized services like provincial childrens’ hospitals,” and hospitals develop research projects and provide patients with the most recent innovations in healthcare.

But what about those who can’t easily travel or live several hours away by plane? Or those who require an integrated treatment plan that requires more than one element of care? For patients living with spinal cord injuries located outside of the GTA this is an issue often overlooked and ignored.

Enter Courtney Cole, Founder and President of ForaHealthyMe, a virtual healthcare platform. Cole teamed up with Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute and the Centre for Family Medicine to address the accessibility of care issue for patients living with spinal cord injuries throughout Ontario by developing a virtual integrated platform under the theme “Better Care Closer to Home.” The official launch of their platform “Virtual Integrated Platform for Spinal Cord Injuries” (VIP4SCI), was announced Wednesday, November 1, 2017 at the Toronto Rehab Clinic, Lyndhurst Centre.

The objective of the platform is to “build a solution that revolves around patient care,” says Cole who has been working with ventureLAB, an innovation hub that helps accelerate technology companies, to scale his platform and business based in York Region. “We are building a virtual clinic to enable patients with spinal cord injuries to access care through a suite of virtual applications. These include video-based solutions for one to one consults with a family physician or a specialist, self-assessments, goal setting and peer to peer engagements.”

courtney cole health technologies fund announcement

Cole is no stranger to working within teams on eHealth solutions.

In 2015, ventureLAB facilitated the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) eHealth Innovations Partnership Program which resulted in a research collaboration project with York University, CAMH and North York General Hospital, researching York University students’ mental health and well-being. ventureLAB has also championed the development of ForaHealthyMe with speaking opportunities at MedEdge, placement in ventureLAB’s health accelerator pulseHUB and continued mentorship support in his five years working with the hub.

VIP4SCI is a support system for Ontario-based spinal cord injury patients who live far from Toronto’s city-centre or simply are unable to travel. One of the most common challenges facing this group is accessing primary care support close to home from a provider with disability experience.

The VIP4SCI team are among the first recipients of the Ontario Centers of Excellence (OCE) Health Technologies Fund (HTF).

Of the 220 applications, VIP4SCI was one of 15 to be funded. As many as 50 per cent of Canadian spinal cord injury patients live in Ontario, making this project incredibly impactful for the community across the country according to representatives from Toronto Rehab’s Lyndhurst Centre.

Patients with spinal cord injuries have unique needs and typically require more than one point of care for a single issue. These treatment “episodes” can include trips to the ER and fracture clinics, attendant care support and nursing at home, and treatment for depression and other mental health issues that result from being immobile for extended periods. Episodes can lead to a downward spiral of events and as a result, patients are deemed frailty or multi-morbidity cases that many general practitioners are unable to adequately treat with the resources locally available.

“Many spinal cord injury patients default to returning to their rehab hospital or visiting an emergency department when disability-specific experience and community supports are not available which is a costly healthcare option,” says Cole. “Travel and accessible transportation can be significant hurdles for our clients and can deter them from seeking medical assistance until their condition becomes serious and most often requires hospitalization.”

In year one of a spinal cord injury, the average patient has 27 tertiary care visits which costs approximately $150K to the healthcare system.

Over a lifetime, patient episodes can cost up to $300-$400K according to UHN. VIP4SCI will enhance the support and services to patients with spinal cord injuries and other mobility disabilities from acute care through rehab, and during the transition back home, and is predicted to reduce these costs to the healthcare system overall.

Physicians can expect to use a custom-built platform to manage patient cases and cross-pollinate data with other health-care providers. They can schedule tele-health calls for follow up appointments to keep up to date with patients, and to confer with other health-care providers on various cases.

The HTF is a collaborative funding program supported by OCE and the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. The project supports 15 projects over four years, at $5M a year. Three ventureLAB companies including ForaHealthyMe Inc., NextUp Care and QoC Health have been awarded this funding. The goal of the program is to create sustainable healthcare systems using a team based approach with industry solutions. Through this fund, the province expects to elevate Ontario’s standing as a global leader in health innovation.

The VIP4SCI platform, the first of its kind in Canada, is being piloted by 50 patients beginning in January 2018. The platform uses cloud-based technology and machine learning through Microsoft Azure Cloud Solutions for a scalable solution that will solve problems not just for today, but for problems that have yet to be met.