GE launches $6-billion health care strategy

General Electric Co. put the spotlight on technology and health care last week by announcing a $6-billion global business strategy that aims to cut costs, improve quality and increase access by 15 per cent over the next six years.

The healthymagination initiative, overseen by GE’s health care unit headquartered the U.K., will be monitored by independent research and consultancy firm Oxford Analytica Limited.

The funding will be divided into three areas: $3 billion for research and development, $2 billion for IT deployment and $1 billion for partnerships, which includes one with NBC Universal that will focus on consumer-driven health and prevention. More than 100 projects, from water purification to cardiology programs, are included in the R&D portfolio.

At the healthymagination unveiling in Toronto, GE highlighted the Baffin Island cardiac program as one example of an R&D effort. Run by the University of Ottawa Heart Institute and Ontario Health Services Institute, the program provides cardiac medical care to villages in Iqaluit using a portable cardiovascular ultrasound system from GE that weighs 30 times less than other systems.

GE also announced a Canadian-based partnership with Canada Health Infoway and eHealth Ontario through the Pan Northern Ontario PACS Project (PNOP), which launched the same day. PNOP will develop a diagnostic image repository that facilities will be able to share with physicians, regardless of their platform.

Canada is unique in having a government-run health care system that citizens don’t want tampered with, noted Dr. Jean Francois Marquis, cardiologist at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute who participated in a panel discussion on Canadian healthcare at the event.

One role Canada can play in this global initiative is to position itself as a model for the rest of the world and showcase various scenarios, Marquis suggested.

Early detection and screening processes aren’t as accessible in other countries compared to Canada, pointed out panel moderator Dr. Marla Shapiro, medical contributor to CTV’s Canada AM and consultant for CTV News.

The panelists suggested GE make sure projects are replicable and applicable nationwide, as some good ideas might not work anywhere geographically. Another suggestion is to look at past one-off programs that could be reused.

GE might want to consider investing in curable diseases rather than focus on chronic disease, which already takes up a considerable portion of budgets and continues to grow with the demographic, Shapiro pointed out.

Marquis stressed the need for additional partnerships. GE alone can’t make this happen, he suggested. Instead, GE can set an example for other companies to follow. There can’t be just one player, he said.

Partners should offer health care increased safety, not efficiency and services, suggested Dr. Jeff Lozon, former CEO of St. Michael’s Hospital and chair of the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. Caregivers are interested in patient safety, not GE, he said. “This is what health care is about.”

The medical industry is slow at knowledge translation, according to Lozon, who said it takes about 14 years from knowing a technology works to having it broadly used. To improve access to existing technology, GE can be helpful by educating the industry and health-care workers, which might speed up the process, he suggested.

But young physicians are IT-savvy and will help the medical community get into the IT world, according to Marquis. It will slowly come to the older generations, he said.

Canada was at the forefront with national health records six years ago and one of the first countries to have a health information exchange system, said Dr. Myrna Francis, VP of the global health care sector for CGI Group Inc.

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