McGill University Health Centre: Arthur T. Porter, Director General & CEO

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The origins of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) may be traced back to 1822 when Dr. William Robertson performed the first operation at the Montreal General Hospital, one of the five teaching hospitals affiliated with McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine that merged voluntarily in 1997 to become the MUHC. In 2008, a sixth hospital joined the MUHC. Combined with the Research Institute of the MUHC, the MUHC is one of Canada’s most notable academic health centres.

“One of the things we have done since the merger of all our hospitals is to create a focus on developing a new platform for health care,” says the Honourable Arthur T. Porter,
Director General and CEO. “That platform is both in terms of technology—how we deliver health care—and also in terms of construction of facilities. In April of this year we broke ground on the Glen Campus, part of Canada’s largest healthcare redevelopment. It’s a $1.35-billion public-private partnership (PPP). It is the largest PPP in health care in Canada, and I believe in the world, at the present time.”

In total, three campuses will be redeveloped. “This changes the institution from being one that not only provides the best quality health care, but also to one that has the infrastructure to be able to deliver it in the newest and most advanced ways,” says Porter.

The Heart of the Hospital

“The Centre for Innovative Medicine is at the heart of the hospital, both physically as well as spiritually,” says Porter. “This is where our scientists will interact with our clinicians and research will be developed right at the bedside. While we treat patients using the latest technologies and knowledge, part of our academic mission is to develop the new knowledge and technologies that improve the quality of care.”

This is a fundamental change from the old-school model where the hospital is in one building and research in another. At the MUHC, the two are being fully integrated so that clinicians and researchers work hand in hand, explaining issues and asking questions of each other.

The other change that will come about through the redevelopment is an emphasis on elements that create a healing environment. Every new room is for a single patient and has a private bathroom, for instance. “You don’t come to the hospital to make friends; you come to the hospital to get well,” says Porter.

The MUHC Redevelopment Project attracted interest from around the world, with bids from very large and multinational engineering, architecture and construction groups. A consortium led by SNC-Lavalin, a Quebec company well-known for developing major infrastructure projects worldwide, and Innisfree Ltd. out of the United Kingdom was selected. “You will see the design is very innovative and exciting,” adds Porter.

Mining the Digital Dividend

“One of the things we have not been particularly good at as an industry is developing an electronic environment that gives us true value,” notes Porter. “It must make an institution more efficient, more effective and more fiscally responsive.”

Toward this end, the MUHC has shifted its business model so that processes are better supported by information technology. Adjustments have been made in staff requirements as a result. New hospitals will benefit from wireless environments and two new platforms that Porter feels will make a big difference. First is the electronic medical records platform so that physicians may easily access the information they need. Porter expects the use and enhancements of this tool to grow over time. Second is the personalized electronic health record. “You or me and any person who we’ve designated can add information and share it with the doctors or other professionals we’ve chosen. It’s almost like your healthcare log book,” says Porter. “I truly believe that we need to be more empowered as individuals to be part of our own healthcare processes.”


Such a monumental redevelopment project does present challenges. “You have to manage a complex transition process,” says Porter. “Our current hospitals have to provide excellent care until the very day that they shut down. Until then, you can’t reduce their functionality. The result is the need for two lines of thinking: How are you treating your patients today and how are you developing your plan of treatment for tomorrow?”

Building a Team

“I have 14,000 colleagues who work with me,” says Porter. “Whilst one tends to build consensus, one needs to lead from the front. There is nothing I would ask somebody to do that I wouldn’t do myself.” Porter adds, “I try to build a team; everyone wants this but it’s not enough if it’s only in the abstract sense. I want our people to really feel they are part of a family, that they are insiders and that we will protect them. If you look after your people, they are also likely to look after you. That’s my style. There is not much room for airs and graces. While there is always a place for discussion, there comes a time when you have to deliver and that means acting.”

-by T.M. Simmons

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