top of page

Joëlle Lavoie

Joëlle Lavoie serves as the Director of Commercialization Operations in Quebec for the Coordinated Accessible National (CAN) Health Network – a federally-funded organization that works with leading health care providers - referred to as Edges - to scale Canadian technology companies across Canada and beyond.

Her unique combination of scientific and business expertise has been a driving force in her effective leadership and innovative contributions to the healthcare sector. 

Before joining the CAN Health Network, Joëlle spent three years at Sinai Health System in Strategy, Business Innovation and Development. 

Joëlle's academic journey began with a B.Sc in Medical Biology from Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières. She then completed an M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Neurobiology from Université Laval. 

As a scientist, Joëlle’s research experience included time at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine where she completed a Research Fellowship in Molecular Psychiatry. She also has an MBA from the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management. 

How did the CAN Health Network come into existence?

The journey of the CAN Health Network is truly fascinating. It started with the realization by Dr. Dante Morra, Founder and Chair of the Network, that more than a million Canadian dollars leave the country each year to fund U.S. and internationally based health care companies. Through his experience as a leader and internist at one of the largest community hospitals in Canada, Dr. Morra created the CAN Health Network in 2019 to create an integrated marketplace for health care providers and Canadian companies to collectively address some of the most pressing health care challenges in the country. Initial funding for the Network came from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev). 

The original mandate was quite straightforward: demonstrate the Network’s effectiveness by successfully connecting a Canadian health care operator with a Canadian solution that results in the procurement of that solution. The team exceeded this expectation by completing multiple procurements, including one led by my team at Sinai. Following this success, CAN Health expanded to other regions thanks to a grant from Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD), with the Saskatchewan Health Authority playing a pivotal role in this expansion. In 2021, the Network launched in the Atlantic region with the support of Horizon Health Network in New Brunswick and a grant from Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA).

A significant milestone occurred in 2022 when CAN Health was named in the Government of Canada’s federal budget with $30 million allocated over four years. This investment enabled the Network to streamline its funding under a single federal envelope and expand further into Quebec and across the territories. This funding has been transformative, eliminating regional barriers. Most recently, CAN Health partnered with Yukon Hospital Corporation – marking another significant milestone to connect the Network from coast-to-coast-to-coast. 

What are “Edges” and how did the concept take shape?

Edges are public or private health care organizations with shared challenges that form an integrated network to collaborate, adopt and procure innovative homegrown solutions. Edges – which may include hospitals, home care organizations, health authorities and private clinics – are health care operators who are committed to being early adopters of innovative Canadian health care solutions.

When identifying potential Edges, several key factors are considered. Firstly, their geographical location and the demographics of the population they serve are crucial. This helps us understand the unique healthcare needs and challenges of different regions. Secondly, their financial capacity is a significant consideration. Since our core objective revolves around procurement, it's essential that these Edges have a substantial budget and the capability to invest in innovative healthcare solutions.

Another critical aspect we examine is the maturity and receptivity of their innovation departments. We seek partners who are not just mature in their operations but are also progressive and open to exploring new ideas and technologies. Typically, our initial conversations happen with these innovation departments before progressing to discussions with their executive teams.

An interesting facet of our expansion, particularly in Quebec, is the role of community and word-of-mouth recommendations. In many instances, healthcare operators within a region are interconnected, so one recommendation can lead to another, gradually expanding our network. This organic growth is complemented by direct inquiries we receive from potential Edges expressing interest in joining the Network. While we're not always in a position to expand immediately, these inquiries are important for our future growth plans. Our aim is to increase the Network to 40 Edges in the coming years, which would significantly enhance our ability to foster healthcare innovation across diverse communities.

How do you ensure that the Edges are creating value over the long term?

Ensuring our Edges create sustained value is a multifaceted process. At the heart of our approach is a demand-driven model, where solutions are developed in response to specific challenges faced by hospitals. This ensures there’s an inherent demand for the solutions, aligning them with real-world problems that need addressing. We focus on matching the identified problems with companies that can provide effective solutions, thus creating a synergy between need and innovation.

How do you see CAN Health evolving and where does CAN Health fit into the evolution of healthcare innovation in Canada?

The pandemic has ushered us into an era of unprecedented change, particularly in the realm of digital health. I was part of a recent discussion on digital health in Ontario, which highlighted that medical schools are now integrating virtual care training into their curricula. This shift underscores a broader trend: the increasing significance of digital health in our healthcare system.

We're witnessing a surge in companies bringing innovative digital health ideas to the forefront. However, the critical question I pose to these companies is whether their innovation addresses a real, existing demand. It's not just about having a good idea; it's about its applicability and need in the current healthcare landscape. In addition, a key challenge lies in the implementation strategy at hospitals. Even the most promising technology might face hurdles in practical application within hospital settings.

This is precisely where CAN Health plays a vital role. We assist hospitals in funding projects that might otherwise lack the resources or incentive to explore. By providing this support, we enable potentially impactful technologies to be integrated into our healthcare systems. Given the changes brought about by COVID-19, I believe we are on the cusp of a significant increase in digital health innovations. The next few years are likely to see a surge in new technologies aimed at enhancing healthcare delivery, spurred by the lessons and challenges of the pandemic.

What are a few impressionable success stories from the CAN Health Network?

One of our most notable success stories is PointClickCare (PCC) – a Toronto-based software company transforming the way patient information is shared between hospitals and long-term care homes. PCC’s journey with CAN Health began as part of the first cohort of projects in collaboration with St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton. The outcomes PCC achieved with its platform were so impressive that it caught the attention of the Ministry of Health in Ontario. As a result, PCC has now expanded its implementation across the province. This is a prime example of how CAN Health helps companies scale rapidly. Without our initial project, PointClickCare might have had to approach hospitals individually. Instead, it is now operational across Ontario.

I am particularly excited about MOLLI Surgical, an innovative company that originated from Sunnybrook. It was founded by a skilled surgeon who had a desire to revolutionize the way breast cancer is localized. The process involves inserting magnetic seeds into the cancerous lesion. During surgery, a specialized wand is then used to accurately locate these seeds. This method not only enhances the patient experience by making the procedure less invasive, but also significantly cuts down on surgical costs. 

MOLLI Surgical is now expanding its reach to other hospitals. The feedback from our Network has been overwhelmingly positive. Hearing about the impact and growing interest in MOLLI Surgical’s technology from other members is truly heartening.

What advice do you have for Canadian companies or entrepreneurs that are seeking to build something innovative within the Canadian healthcare ecosystem?

When I am approached by Canadian companies or entrepreneurs looking to innovate within the healthcare ecosystem, my primary piece of advice is always to ensure they are solving a real problem. It is not just about creating something novel; it must address a genuine need within the healthcare system. For example, a solution might save nurses time or reduce hospital bed occupancy, but one must understand how hospitals are funded. The number of beds often dictates funding, so even if you reduce the length of stay, there is always another patient waiting for that bed.

This leads to my second point: entrepreneurs must have a thorough understanding of hospital funding, considering that hospitals are typically the buyers of these innovations. I always ask companies about their business case. It is not enough to say a solution saves lives – the critical question is, “who will pay for it?” Hospitals, especially, operate with limited budgets, so the solution must not only be lifesaving but also economically viable.

This is why I often rephrase my question to: “Why should a hospital with a constrained budget invest in your solution?” It is essential for entrepreneurs to think from this perspective. The Canadian healthcare system is markedly different from the U.S. system. I encounter many ideas that might find success in the U.S. but will not necessarily translate well to the Canadian context. Understanding these nuances is crucial for anyone looking to make a significant impact in the Canadian healthcare sector.

What key challenges do healthcare entrepreneurs need to be aware of in Canada?

One notable observation is our tendency to favour pilot projects. It is quite common for a hospital to test a new solution through a pilot project. However, the real challenge emerges post-pilot. Even if the data looks promising, it doesn't always lead to a purchase. The reasons vary – sometimes it's a budget constraint, other times the problem isn't deemed critical enough to warrant further investment. This situation creates a significant hurdle for companies who manage to gather solid data but struggle to commercialize their solutions.

Another major challenge is the lengthy sales cycles within the Canadian healthcare system. These cycles can be daunting for companies as they require continuous engagement and patience. The process often involves responding to numerous queries and enduring a long wait for decisions.

Additionally, navigating the healthcare system can be incredibly complex. Each hospital and health authority operates differently, and understanding who to approach for decision-making is not always straightforward. Having worked in many hospitals, and collaborated with hospital executives, I've observed that decision-making often involves multiple committees and layers of approval, which prolongs the process.

A common misconception among companies is the influence of physicians. While a physician might be enthusiastic about a solution, they usually don't have the authority to make purchasing decisions. It’s essential to identify and build relationships with the right decision-makers, which varies from one institution to another and across provinces. Understanding these nuances is crucial for any entrepreneur aiming to make a significant impact in the Canadian healthcare sector.

How do you see the role of CAN Health evolving over the next 5-10 years?

Our immediate step is to establish a presence in all provinces across Canada. We're currently active in nine provinces and the Yukon, with Quebec being next in our expansion. Quebec presents its own unique challenges, but we're dedicated to making significant strides there. Our goal, supported by our new grant that extends until 2026, is to be operational in all 10 provinces and territories within the next few years.

Beyond geographical expansion, we're also exploring new domains for our integrated marketplace model. We see potential applications of our approach in various fields, including municipalities. The idea is to extend the CAN Health model to sectors like agriculture and other public-private partnerships. This exploration could lead to the emergence of new integrated marketplaces in diverse areas.

Another ambitious goal we have is to take our model beyond Canadian borders. Scaling within Canada is essential, but we also recognize the importance of global expansion. We’re actively considering how to penetrate markets in Europe and Asia. This international expansion will not only benefit Canadian companies by providing them access to global markets but will also enhance the overall impact of the CAN Health Network.


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page