Strategy experts would call our health-care challenge a wicked problem, described by strategic management scholar Dr. John Camillus, PhD, as an unprecedented challenge of unknowable root causes involving myriad stakeholders, values and priorities, and a problem that continuously morphs with each attempt to address it. All of a sudden, “Leviathan” becomes “Hydra.”
Yet, this epic challenge is a defining opportunity for UCalgary and our alumni. Innovative solutions to wicked problems are best solved through collaborative research paired with entrepreneuship-driven hypotheses and experimentation. UCalgary, a research and entrepreneurial-driven university, is uniquely suited for this work. It is teeming with experts in public policy, law, business and organizational strategy, health and wellness, information technology, and more; and it has a mandate that embraces both analytical research and entrepreneurial action.
We could start to address this challenge by establishing a coalition of collaborative, action-oriented, cross-sector stakeholders that value solutions that strengthen sustainable universal care. Stakeholders such as public organizations like Alberta Health Services (AHS) and our Primary Care Networks (PCN); large private health information technology vendors like TELUS Health, Epic and DynaLIFEDx; new-entrant social entrepreneurs, supported through organizations such as the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Haskayne School of Business, Platform Calgary and more; and patient-advocacy groups like Greg’s Wings and Imagine Citizens.
Then, we could continue this work by creating room for real-world, hypothesis-driven health-care solution experimentation with real people and, over time, replacing the culture of institutionalized risk-avoidance. These efforts, however, are for naught if we neglect the need to commercialize and scale solutions beyond Alberta. A recent University of Toronto paper describes Canada as the land of stranded health-care pilot projects, because our system is largely incapable of bringing any innovative solutions to our largest procurer — the public health-care system. Allocation of even a small percentage of our annual $22-billion health-care budget, supported by better innovation-procurement processes, will significantly impact health-care service productivity and patient outcomes. We need to make this happen.
Wicked problems shape-shift and are rarely solved indefinitely because each new solution changes the relationship of constraints, resources and stakeholders. A continuous system of self-rejuvenation is consequently essential for sustainable universal health care. Wrestling the “Leviathan” into a sustainable state requires Herculean stamina. Nonetheless, the importance, urgency and consequent benefits of success are compelling: an inspirational mission that unifies UCalgary’s 185,000-strong alumni while attracting the globe’s best researchers and research funding; an economy diversified by a health-care business ecosystem that attracts the best social entrepreneurs and investment capital; and the opportunity to significantly reduce health-care spending and heal our universal health-care system while taming an otherwise-overwhelming demographic tsunami.