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Healthcare leaders (and Rotman alumni) on what COVID-19 has taught them and what they are thinking about now

November 2, 2020

Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare sector has been at the forefront. From ramping up patient care to meet increased need to procuring personal protective equipment (PPE) to protecting the most vulnerable populations, leaders operating in this space have had to move quickly.

Recently, two Rotman alumni — leaders in the healthcare space — reflected on the early days of the global pandemic and how they had to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. They shared what this crisis has taught them so far and their thoughts on the future of healthcare.

Key concerns in long-term care and retirement living

When COVID-19 struck, Azi Boloorchi (MBA ’09), vice president of innovation, data and strategic projects at Revera, which operates retirement living and long-term care centres across Canada and the UK, moved quickly.

Azi Boloorchi (MBA ’09)

“Our company manages influenza outbreaks regularly, but from the beginning we knew this virus would be different,” explains Boloorchi, who oversees innovation, advanced analytics and strategic projects at Revera. “Because we deal with a vulnerable population, we knew we had to prioritize infection control and communicating with our residents and staff.”

The organization worked hard to stay ahead of the curve: they immediately invested in acquiring additional PPE, instituted mandatory masking at their sites before public health agencies mandated it and developed a comprehensive pandemic response plan. Fortunately, because of prior investments in digital tools and technology, the organization was able to seamlessly transition their support staff to remote work, and their staff were accustomed using telehealth setups to communicate with healthcare providers offsite.

“This is an opportunity to push boundaries.”

—Azi Boloorchi, MBA ’09

At the end of the first wave, Boloorchi and her team led a series of analytics projects with the goal of uncovering the major factors that might have contributed to severe outbreaks. Boloorchi believes that machine learning might help predict when the next outbreak could occur. These insights gained from data analytics, as well as input from an external expert advisory committee, will enable Revera to effectively plan for the future.

“I keep telling my team ‘never let a crisis go to waste,’” she says. “This is an opportunity to push boundaries. Various digital tools might not have had a strong business case before the pandemic — now they do. Take advantage of that.”

How the pandemic disrupted the startup space

Portrait of Tim MatthewsThe pandemic also shook things up for those in the health tech and startup space.

In 2019, Tim Matthews (MBA ’10) and his colleagues at AceAge brought their new product, the Karie Device, to market. This smart device — which aims to help individuals and their families manage complex medication schedules — was set to make its mark on the Canadian market in 2020. However, the global pandemic put their plans on hold.

“In the last few months, the healthcare industry has rightfully been focused on stabilizing their operations and keeping their staff, residents and families safe,” explains Matthews, chief operating officer at AceAge. “The result being that there wasn’t much capacity for ideas or projects outside of solving the immediate threat at hand.”

In the meantime, the team has found success in the Europe, which has an established market for personal health and medical devices. Matthews is hopeful that as COVID-19 cases decline, the appetite for innovation, unrelated to the pandemic, will return.

“I’ve seen more innovation in healthcare in the last six months than I’ve seen in my entire career.”

—Tim Matthews, MBA ’10

“I’ve seen more innovation in healthcare in the last six months than I’ve seen in my entire career,” says Matthews. “Patients can now video call or message their physicians. Healthcare providers can complete lab requisitions and referrals online.”

“I think that what we’re seeing is a willingness to break down some of the silos we’ve come up against in the past, get different parties at the table and develop interesting solutions. It’s encouraging.”

To learn more about the complex challenges currently facing leaders in healthcare and the life sciences, tune into the upcoming Rotman Livestream event featuring Azi Boloorchi, Tim Matthews and several other experts, Digital Health in a New World – What's Next?

Register here

Written by Rebecca Cheung | More Student Stories »

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