New Smart Health Research Chair Will Overcome Geographic and Other Barriers to Health Care in Northwestern Ontario

Dr. Zubair Fadlullah

“Smart health” is one of the most promising areas of health care advancement today. Smart health encompasses a wide range of technology that will help health care providers connect more easily with their patients, receive more information about their patients’ health faster, and ultimately improve patient care.

Dr. Zubair Fadlullah is the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute’s newest scientist, joining in January 2019. He becomes the first Lakehead University-Health Research Institute Research Chair in Smart Health Technology. Dr. Fadlullah’s goal is to develop a smart health program that meets the needs of both institutions: a viable academic program focusing on smart health technology development at Lakehead, and clinical research initiatives at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre to help improve health care for patients across the region.

“Smart health is about health care access for patients, no matter where they live in Northwestern Ontario,” Dr. Fadlullah said. “Geographic barriers to care have always had a huge impact on health care here. Smart health can help us overcome these and other barriers to patient care.”

The lessons learned here could be applied to remote areas around the world that rely upon distance health programs. Dr. Fadlullah plans to focus on three specific areas: Sensors, Connectivity, and Analysis.

  • Sensors includes all data collection from remote monitoring of vital signs (for example, heart rhythms in a patient with cardiovascular disease) to simple questionnaires.
  • Connectivity is the ability to send that data from the patient to the health care provider – in this case, our Hospital – via existing and new infrastructure.
  • Analysis will involve some level of artificial intelligence (AI) to help quickly interpret the data and provide decision support for health care providers.

“Smart health has the potential to positively affect every area of health care at our Hospital,” Dr. Fadlullah said.

The first step is to decide what smart health technologies would be most effective in Northwestern Ontario. Over the next year, Dr. Fadlullah will conduct a patient needs assessment across the region, develop project plans to meet those needs, hire students and post-docs for research at Lakehead, and start building pathways to future clinical trials. “We need to find the areas we can start working on now, and create a plan for what we will do in the long term.”

Thunder Bay is a leader in the world in terms of working directly on smart health technology as a tool to overcome geographic barriers. It is a natural progression from our leadership in distance health research and program development.