Given the amount of criticism heaped upon the Canadian health care system from its most vocal detractors, a casual observer may conclude that health and medical innovation doesn’t happen here due to financial, policy and technology barriers. But a look at the historical record reveals that health and medical innovation does happen in Canada, with Ontario and Toronto driving the charge.

The most well known innovation was the discovery of insulin by Drs. Frederick Banting and Charles Best at the University of Toronto in 1920. Two years later, the pair was the first to use it clinically to treat a diabetic patient. They were recognized for their work in 1923 with the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Many other notable health or medical innovation milestones have occurred in the 90 years since Banting and Best made their mark on the health care industry in Canada and the world:

  • Clinical Care: In 1952, George Klein, affectionately referred to as Canada’s Thomas Edison, invented the electric wheelchair for quadriplegic patients. Klein, a graduate of the University of Toronto, is also credited with inventing the first micro-surgical staple gun to suture blood vessels.

  • Medication Safety: In 1967, Henri Breault, M.D., a pediatrician based in Windsor, Ontario, invented the child-resistant cap for medication bottles. His invention dramatically reduced the incidence of accidental medication poisonings by children.

  • Patient Safety: In 1975, Jack Cunningham, a former student and later medical biophysics professor at the University of Toronto, wrote the first computer program to accurately determine the amount of radiation a patient receives during radiation therapy for cancer.

  • Population Health: In 1984, Tak Wah Mak, M.D., discovered and cloned T-cell receptor genes, which are critical to the understanding of how the immune system in humans fights disease.

  • Clinical Decision Support: In 1992, Ian Stiell, M.D., now chair of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, developed the Ottawa Ankle Rules to help emergency-room physicians decide whether a patient presenting with an ankle injury needed an X-ray to determine whether it was broken. A research paper published two years later in the Journal of the American Medical Association said use of the clinical guidelines reduced the number of X-rays by 28% without any misdiagnoses.

  • Models of Care: In 2007, Marcia Hills, a professor in the School of Nursing at the University of Victoria, published a research paper that concluded that multi-disciplinary practice teams were most effective in providing low-cost, high-quality care in primary-care settings if the teams were led not by physicians but by other health-related professionals.

  • Population Health: In 2014, the Public Health Agency of Canada announced that it was donating up to 1,000 doses of an experimental Ebola vaccine developed in Canada to the World Health Organization to help fight the spread of the deadly virus in West Africa.

These innovations continue to serve the health care industry worldwide. There is no doubt that Canadian health and medical professionals lead the charge to transform the delivery and financing of health care services through disruptive innovation.


“Canada’s greatest medical research.” Canadian Medicine.

“Canadian health research: Saving lives, making history.” Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

“Eight Great Canadian Medical Breakthroughs.” Legion Magazine.

“Research Institute’s Firsts and Breakthroughs.” Toronto’s Discovery District.

“George J. Klein, Canada’s Own Thomas Edison.” Life as a Human.

“Dr. Henri J. Breault.” Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.

“Research accomplishments.” Canadian Cancer Society.

“Dr. Tak Wah Mak.” Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.

“Ottawa Ankle Rules for Ankle Injury Radiography.” Ottawa Health Research Institute.

“Implementation of the Ottawa Ankle Rules.” Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Community-based participatory action research: transforming multidisciplinary practice in primary health care.” Public Health (PDF, 96 KB).

“Canada offers experimental Ebola vaccine VSV-EBOV to West Africa.” The Canadian Press.