Dr. Dean Chittock: The pandemic has fueled domestic healthcare innovation. How do we keep the momentum going?


Opinion: For example, VCH partnered with Health Canada to investigate the feasibility of training dogs to detect COVID-19 and a quick, non-invasive, and accurate approach to detecting the virus

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There is nothing like adversity for sparking creative problem solving and fueling resilience, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception.

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The past 21 months have taken a devastating toll on people, families and communities around the world. However, the pandemic has also driven tremendous innovation in the health sector as medical professionals, scientists, governments, businesses and citizens come together to slow the spread of COVID-19.

While some innovations – like COVID vaccines – are being recognized in the households, there are other innovations developed in-house that are transforming the path of infection prevention during the pandemic and beyond.
The prominent changes during the pandemic included physical distancing and increased precautionary measures in public spaces. While these actions are necessary steps, they have had a significant impact on our communities.

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As we establish a new normal, Vancouver Coastal Health has worked closely with others to improve public health and restore public confidence in the safety of our common areas.

For example, VCH has partnered with Teck Resources Limited, TransLink and the Toronto Transit Commission on a pilot project to test the effectiveness of copper on high contact transit surfaces. Phase I of the project confirmed that copper could kill 99.9 percent of bacteria on transit surfaces, which is in line with previous VCH results in laboratory and hospital settings. Phase II, which began in September, will further explore how copper – a visible, tangible infection prevention measure – can improve public safety.

This collaboration between the public and private sectors drives innovation in healthcare by providing funding opportunities and expanding opportunities for real-world experiments and applications.

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At the beginning of the pandemic, there was an increased demand worldwide for personal protective equipment or PPE and severely disrupted supply chains. BC faced challenges in sourcing PPE, particularly N95 respirators, due to limited global shipments and long waiting times for new PPE testing and validation in laboratories in North America.

To address this, VCH set up Western Canada’s first accredited PPE testing laboratory in just a few months and, in partnership with the BC Department of Health, Lions Gate Hospital Foundation, VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation and the Provincial Public Health Authority, deployed the new PPE ensures meets Canadian and international standards. This laboratory is also a sustainable resource with economic benefits for the province and country as Canadian manufacturers can now use this service to evaluate and validate PPE products and materials, promote local industries, and domestic PPE supplies to strengthen.

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What was essential for this initiative was leadership that values ​​innovation and enables agility in organizational structures and processes.

In 2016, VCH became the first health organization in the world to use C. difficile detection dogs to reduce infections in healthcare. This summer, VCH joined Health Canada to investigate the possibility of training these super-sniffers to detect COVID-19 and find a quick, non-invasive, and accurate approach to detecting the virus.

With its extensive experience and team of medical professionals, dog handlers and infection prevention practitioners, VCH was in a unique position to tailor this program to the needs of the pandemic. Recently, three dogs were externally validated for COVID-19 odor detection with 100 percent sensitivity and 93 percent specificity in a laboratory setting.

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The VCH’s ongoing research is aimed at developing a scalable dog training program to support healthy communities over the long term, with potential applications including COVID-19 screening in health and community facilities.

As we move through yet another phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, some things are clear. Each of these innovations was made possible by a shared vision to make our communities safer and healthier.

We must continue to maximize public and private partnerships to develop a self-sustaining health ecosystem in BC. We also need healthcare leaders who are committed to innovation, especially in times of uncertainty.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we need to create sustainable solutions that can be applied and refined now as we get out of the pandemic.

Dr. Dean Chittock is Vice President Medicine, Quality, and Safety for Vancouver Coastal Health.

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