An app that would match unattached patients with local family doctors won a Dragon's Den-style competition put on by the University of Ottawa's Department of Family Medicine.
Three finalists duked it out on Monday afternoon in front of a panel of judges that included the president of Montfort Hospital and experts in Indigenous health and patient advocacy.
Participants submitted ideas throughout the summer for a chance to win $3,500.
The idea for the competition came to Dr. Clare Liddy, chair of the university's family medicine department, just after she came into the role about a year ago.
"We had so many people who would reach out to me and say: 'could you find a family doctor for me? My doctor has retired and so on and so forth', so it really was a big problem," she told CBC's All In A Day.
Liddy says vulnerable populations have always struggled to get access to care, but the pandemic exacerbated the challenges involved in getting treatment. She estimates 27 Ottawa doctors shut their practices in the last year.
"It was really obvious to me that we can't just keep doing the same thing because it's not addressing the problem. There's thousands of people who just do not have access in our region," she said.
While training doctors is obviously one thing the university does, Liddy said she wanted to see what wider solutions might exist to address the gap between the need for care and available doctors.
Reimagining a visit to your family doctor
Several pitches attempted to reimagine a primary care clinic.
One group suggested a completely virtual clinic, where patients' health is monitored via wearables and apps, while another suggested a move to more of a community hub, where in addition to having doctors, nurse practitioners and physiotherapists work together it could fold in a yoga studio and some public-private partnerships on services.
A psychologist pitched combining mental health research and primary care as a way to cut down on waitlists.
But it was Dr. Maddie Venables and her team who took home the oversized cheque for their app idea.
Liddy praised the idea for being "very patient facing" in that users could input some of what they're looking for in a doctor or primary health care provider and have the app connect them "almost like a Tinder match" with available local resources.
Liddy says the judges like that the app could be rolled out as a solution nationally. It would also help quantify exactly how many people were searching for care and what kind of care they felt they were missing.
In addition to the prize money, Liddy says the Family Medicine Department has offered Venables support to develop a prototype.
The department has co-op placements for software engineers, so Venables will be paired with a software developer starting in the winter semester.
For her part, Liddy says she'll be working on convincing primary care workers to consider being a part of the directory on the app.