Premier Danielle Smith urges innovators to back medical tech ahead of health-care overhaul

Smith said she envisions new technologies being adopted into the public health-care system as they go down in price

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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith urged Alberta’s innovators and investors on Friday to focus on medical technology as the province undertakes a sweeping revamp of its health-care system.

It was one of several remarks the premier made in a conversation at the Inventures conference in downtown Calgary, which for three days brought together angel investors, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and Alberta’s two big-city mayors to the Telus Convention Centre.

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Closing out a 45-minute onstage conversation, Smith the government has a “big innovation challenge” in health care.

“I know that there’s a little nervousness about some of the changes that we’re making in health care, but it’s $29 billion we spend — it’s almost 40 per cent of our budget. We have to invite the innovators and entrepreneurs in to help us so that we can find better solutions,” Smith said during her conversation with Martha Hall Findlay, a former Liberal MP and chief climate officer at Suncor who’s now director of the University of Calgary School of Public Policy.

The Alberta government is preparing to split Alberta Health Services into four agencies in the coming years: acute care, continuing care, primary care, and mental health and addictions. The government has said the reorganization will take up to two years.

Smith said the public and private sectors’ ability to collaborate on innovative technologies is greatly hindered by the current system, referencing a project focused on treating prostate cancer that recently fell by the wayside because government “couldn’t find $10,000 worth of staff time to be able to work with this innovation.”

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The government should also improve its ability to work with innovators to find better health-care solutions, Smith said. “I’m hoping that there’s a ton of opportunities that will be open as a result of that.”

Smith said she envisions those new technologies being adopted into the public health-care system as their prices start to go down.

“These are the things that we need to be able to do here so that, ultimately, as the price comes down, all those innovations are adopted into our public health system so everybody can get better care.”

Smith also mused about eventually providing Alberta’s carbon-capture technologies to countries such as China and India, which have emissions-reductions targets further away than the province’s 2050 goal. China has pledged to reach net-zero by 2060 and India is targeting 2070 — however India’s current emissions pathway is “wildly off target,” according to energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie.

Alberta could help those major emitters reach their targets on a faster timeline if the province reaches its 2050 target and is able to provide those countries with technologies it already has, she said. Alberta’s 2050 net-zero target, a goal agreed upon by several nations around the world, does not have any interim targets along that 26-year timeline.

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“We should take full advantage of this first-mover position that we find ourselves in,” she said.

At another point, discussing Canada’s labour productivity challenges — often calculated by GDP per hour worked — Smith said the Alberta government has been working to modernize its systems to be more focused on technology.

She argued that a more productive public service can provide more services to citizens and therefore increase wages. “You have to be able to do more, and we can use technology, I think, to be able to provide better and better service to Albertans.”

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