Latest Thinking

Meet the Doctors behind our COVID-19 pandemic response.

August 3, 2020

When the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, TELUS brought together its first Medical Advisory Council (MAC): a team of Canada’s leading medical experts who, together, would guide our response to this unprecedented global crisis.

This team of specialists collectively has decades of experience in leadership, public health, mental health, primary care, occupational health, infectious diseases, digital health, and health policy. During COVID-19, they brought that experience together with their evidence-based approach and steadfast dedication to our nation’s health.

The Medical Advisory Council has helped TELUS navigate through grey waters with unwavering commitment, providing clarity, guidance, and hope to our leadership team — and the hundreds of thousands of Canadians we serve.

Meet the doctors and change-makers behind TELUS’ pandemic response:

Dr. Dominik Nowak (Physician Lead)

Family Physician

Faculty, University of Toronto

Q: Members of the MAC worked around the clock during this pandemic, juggling many clinical, leadership, and personal roles. What makes the team shine?

A: The pandemic response has been an immensely difficult test of leadership in crisis for everyone involved. In the first few weeks of the pandemic, our understanding of the situation was changing daily, often even hour-to-hour, and we quickly came to understand how valuable our diverse perspectives were. We would often challenge each other’s ideas with new facts, studies and inferences, and ultimately end up at a more nuanced answer. This dialogue continues to be especially critical given the reach of our work, as our advice goes on to impact thousands of Canadians. None of us take that lightly.

Through the heat and weight of the first few weeks, we forged a team with a powerful bond. We have mutual respect for each other’s expertise and a shared purpose in our work, understanding that we make a difference to many Canadians. It is rewarding that we are helping keep Canadians safe, and helping make sure TELUS can keep people connected to their loved ones in the most challenging global event of our generation.

Dr. Diane McIntosh (Mental Health Lead)

Psychiatrist

Faculty, University of British Columbia
Chief Neuroscience Officer, TELUS
Q: What do we know so far about the mental and social implications of the COVID-19 pandemic?

A: We already had a mental health crisis before the pandemic; now, we’re facing what I’m calling a “COVID-19 mental health trifecta”: health anxiety, financial injury and isolation. We are already seeing the impact of those stressors, with four times the levels of high anxiety, twice the levels of depression, and a significant increase in alcohol use and drug overdose deaths compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Will these issues cause society to be more attuned to the need for mental health support and resources? Sadly, more individuals will need to be impacted to drive people to be politically motivated to demand change. Perhaps this will come from the dismal mental health outcomes that are sure to worsen as the pandemic, and its economic impact, continue to exact a toll on our communities.

Dr. Anita Rachlis (Infectious Diseases Lead)

Infectious Diseases Physician

Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto

Q: What have we learned during the first wave of COVID-19 in Canada that will help us prepare for upcoming waves or future pandemics?

A: Although we learned some lessons from the SARS outbreak in 2003, we were not as prepared for COVID-19 as we should have been. Some provinces have had a better response to the pandemic than others and should be seen as models to emulate, but federal and provincial governments need to address shortfalls – like inadequate reserves of PPE and critical equipment, as well as too few Canadian manufacturers of such essential items – so that we are not reliant on scarce global supply in the future. We also did not fully appreciate the vulnerability of our older adults in long-term facilities.

In anticipation of ongoing COVID-19 transmission, we must create efficient and effective data platforms for seamless entry, retrieval, and analysis of new cases of COVID-19, which will allow us to better expedite and target testing, contact tracing and personnel needs to support the response. Coordinated data collection will also allow for more effective epidemiologic modelling and prediction of future needs.

We need innovative processes to mitigate ongoing transmission and potential upcoming waves, which will help dispel anxiety and allow our country to move forward with a positive frame.

Dr. Neal Sutton (Occupational Health Lead)

Occupational Health Physician

Faculty, University of Toronto
Medical Director for several FP500 Companies
Lawyer

Q: How has the role of health promotion within organizations changed over the course of COVID-19?

A: Workplace health promotion has evolved to focus more holistically on occupational and nonoccupational factors during the pandemic, such as family health issues and transportation to the workplace. Health at home and at work are interconnected and must complement each other in order to protect workers from hazards posed by COVID-19.

The amount of information related to COVID-19 can be overwhelming and the science changes rapidly. More than ever, organizations are consulting with medical experts to differentiate between reliable, up-to-date information and potentially vague, misleading or outdated information.

Dr. Mark Gelfer (Innovation Lead)

Family Physician

Faculty, University of British Columbia
Founder and Chairman of GenXys Health Care Systems

Q: What do you hope the Canadian health system will do differently in the wake of COVID-19?

A: The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the rapid introduction and adoption of many new digital technologies, to our nation’s benefit. Telemedicine brings us virtual visits with healthcare professionals to help us decide if we need to visit the emergency room or doctor’s office; remote monitoring of our vital signs allows us to stay at home and manage our acute or chronic medical conditions together with our healthcare practitioners. Additionally, sharing of medical research has been dramatically accelerated by the use of “pre-print” online publication of research findings, allowing those responsible for health policies to benefit from the observations of others in a much more timely fashion than we ever thought possible.

My hope for the post-COVID era is that we will continue to explore and adopt new digital

technologies that make our lives healthier and our healthcare system journeys smoother and easier.

Dr. Jesse Kancir (Public Health Lead)

Family Physician & Public Health Chief Resident, University of British Columbia

Former Advisor to Minister Jane Philpott
Active in the COVID-19 response in BC with Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry

Q: What were the success factors in British Columbia’s exemplary response to the pandemic? Which of them have we mirrored at TELUS?

A: British Columbia’s highly-effective COVID-19 response has benefited from several world-class competencies. I’ve had the privilege to work alongside  capable, compassionate, and trusted people who work efficiently together to make evidence-based decisions with the goal of protecting British Columbians. It is also important to remember that the ongoing opioid crisis here in BC means that our public health staff and infrastructure already had a health emergency mindset (and one that will need to continue once COVID-19 is over). The lesson here is the importance of being prepared.

For TELUS, the Medical Advisory Council is new, but draws on the same components: we’re a team whose members respect each other and bring different dimensions of expertise to the table, and the company has been consistently responsive in carrying out recommendations that prioritize the health and safety of its clients and employees. Our responses have been rapid, balanced, and rooted in good medical and public health practice.

Both the BC provincial response and the TELUS response have reflected excellence, and I’m proud to be involved with both.

Dr. Allan Detsky (Health Policy and Economics Lead)

Internist & Health Economist

Order of Canada

Professor of Health Policy, Management, and Evaluation, University of Toronto

Q: As a leader during SARS and now during COVID-19, what do you think are the key differences in the challenges we faced in each crisis?

A: The biggest difference between SARS and COVID-19 is that the former spread primarily in health care settings when so called “superspreaders” were hospitalized, but it was not spread very efficiently in the community. The clinical course was also much more predictable, as most patients with SARS developed clear symptoms, leading them to seek care and isolation. The outbreak only affected a small number of people, wreaking havoc predominantly on the local health care systems in places where the superspreaders travelled (including Hong Kong, Taiwan and Toronto). As such, it did not overmatch our Public Health teams, and it was easier to test, trace, isolate and support people. On the other hand, we had no diagnostic test like the test for presence of the virus that was developed for COVID-19, so there was less diagnostic certainty. As a result of these critical differences, COVID-19 has presented unique innovation challenges for leaders throughout the world.