Ward of the 21st Century

2013 Winner: Societal Impact Award

Healthcare matters greatly to Canadians, many whom consider Tommy Douglas – the founder of the Canadian healthcare system – among the greatest Canadians ever.

“It speaks to how healthcare is part of our national identity,” says Dr. William Ghali, co-director of W21C (Ward of the 21st century).

W21C is a research and beta test-site for hospital design, novel approaches to health care delivery, human factors research and innovative medical technologies. It is a not-for-profit initiative spearheaded by the University of Calgary and the Calgary zone of Alberta Health Services. It includes industry partners and national and international subject experts. The team includes physicians and other health care providers in addition to specialists from sociology, computer science, business, engineering and anthropology, among others.

“This breadth of expertise demonstrates a scope of academic inquiry that has considerable potential to be truly transformative.
W21C is catalyst for change that empowers the many people working in health care to make the system better,” says Dr. Ghali. “Many doctors, nurses and trainees in W21C will apply this mindset to their professional work in the future.”

The beacon call to establish W21C was the urgent need for innovation in health care – underlined by a 2004 study that reported as many as 20,000 deaths occur annually in Canadian hospitals from preventable adverse events. Dr. John Conly responded by establishing a state-of-the-art medical unit to function as a ‘living laboratory’ at Foothills Medical Centre. Along with Dr. Ghali, Dr. Conly and Dr. Barry Baylis are co-directors of W21C.

Today the original Unit 36 medical ward and lab in Foothills Medical Centre remain and have been augmented with a separate research and innovation space in the University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine Teaching Research and Wellness Building. These facilities allow health system innovation and engage W21C’s multidisciplinary researchers to collaborate on exciting approaches to improve patient safety and quality of care – in Calgary and in health care systems around the world.

“W21C can bridge the experience of the health care provider, the family and patient and the tax payer,” Dr. Ghali says. “All of the dotted lines point to needed improvements in health care.”  W21C addresses systemic challenges that affect and even harm patients.

Particularly relevant to Dr. Ghali is the system of discharging patients. About one in every three patients is readmitted to hospital within three months, often because they don’t get the follow up attention they require. The system innovated by W21C and being implemented in Calgary hospitals provides an instant web-based record and a printed copy of the medications the patient has received in the hospital and follow up care instructions for doctors, pharmacists and the patient and family.

“Our survey shows tremendous satisfaction from physicians. That’s a tangible effect of W21C,” Dr. Ghali explains. With it, we are creating a culture within the healthcare system that enables the mindset that change is possible.”