Aiming to boost innovation in healthcare and the prospects of medtech startups, Eastern Health in Newfoundland and Labrador has partnered with HaloHealth, Canada’s first physician angel group that brings together physicians and early-stage health technology startups.

Eastern Health and HaloHealth are working to accelerate healthcare innovation throughout Atlantic Canada. The partnership provides startups with access to physician expertise, potential investment, and a health system for user testing and trials, while Eastern Health and its patients gain early access to new products and solutions, Farah McCrate, Eastern Health’s Director of Research and Innovation said in an interview.

The physician-investor group, started early last year, has had three successful exits iof three Ontario companies: Field Trip, Inkblot and Cloud DX.

“HaloHealth is on to something novel (with its physician-investor group),” said McCrate. Seeing an opportunity to act as an East Coast hub, Eastern Health contacted the group and suggested partnering. Eastern Health is now seeking to onboard physicians across the Atlantic Provinces

“We approach physicians who are active in the innovation space,” McCrate said. “These physicians tend to be those interested in ideating in their own clinical practice and looking for investment opportunities.”

Eastern Health recently hosted the first HaloHealth Live! Eastern event and featured promising regional medtech startups including Ring Rescue, JVPLabs (JRAS Medical Inc.), PolyUnity Tech Inc, BreatheSuite, and Reach Orthopaedics.

McCrate said startups benefit from the new opportunity to gain access to physicians. “A lot of products and solutions are actually physician-led, other physicians grasp their relevance,” she said. “Physicians can also be advisers, and they (entrepreneurs) can gain access to other networks.”

The partnership is the latest step in Eastern Health’s pursuit of innovation. In 2020, the group received federal and provincial funding to launch a living lab that allows innovators to trial their solutions and devices. They are now working with 11 private industry partners, some with global reach, such as Deloitte and IBM.

The group’s Healthcare Innovation Team helps startups trial and win regulatory approval for solutions and products. The group is currently trialing the product of its first international client, ASAP Norway. Their product is an absorbent, environmentally responsible material that is used as a surface covering in various clinical settings.

“We are trialing it from the cradle to the grave – on the maternity floor and in the morgue,” said McCrate.

The team is also working with JVPLabs, who are devising a non-invasive remote patient monitoring device to assess jugular venous pressure for patients with congestive heart failure.

“Healthcare can be a bit of a black box for innovation and for anyone outside the health system,” McCrate said. “Having the team embedded can quickly connect them to the right person….and can be valuable for validation.”

Eastern Health is also focusing on value-based procurement, which means onboarding goods and services that are not necessarily the cheapest but where the vendor is a partner, in which the risks are shared.

McCrate said value-based procurement focuses on measuring patient outcomes, and both parties are invested in the relationship. “The vendor is as invested in the success as we are,” she said. “They don’t walk away when the sale is made.”

Eastern Health and its partners have also implemented a MedTech Readiness Program. A collaboration with Genesis, Bounce Health and the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship, the partners provide programming for early-stage medtech entrepreneurs.

Participants opt into the MedTech Readiness Program when they apply to Evolution, the Genesis pre-incubator program. On Oct. 20 and 21, Eastern Health is holding its Living Lab Health Innovation Summit, which will look at the intersection of research and innovation and the role research plays in advancing healthcare in the province. Register here.