Treatment 2.0: Data as Patient Support

Fraser Health’s Philip Barker on improving patient care through informatics

Photo by Kaitlyn Wyenberg

From Philip Barker’s first career in mental health to his role today as Fraser Health’s vice president of informatics and analytics, challenges around case management and unsophisticated systems have typically been a problem. Today, Barker can finally tackle those problems, since his job is to alleviate those concerns through informatics—the science of computer information systems—at Fraser Health. The vice president recently spoke to us about Fraser Health’s 1.6 million-patient base and how analytics is changing health care for the better.

Fraser Health serves an incredibly diverse community. How does this impact the approach it takes to providing health care?
We really do service a community that puts a capital D in diversity. We serve areas that are urban and rural [and serve] people who are drastically different religiously, ethnically, and from a heritage standpoint. Our approach is twofold: the services we offer are just as diverse, and the communities we serve are a mirror of the diversity of our staff. Technology is a tool that we can use to have a bigger impact on the community, to engage across diverse populations.


Earns a master’s degree in health services administration from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Alberta

Begins role as director of special hospital services at Calgary District Hospital Group

Becomes a Certified Health Executive from the Canadian College of Health Leaders

Becomes VP of facilities and corporate support for the Simon Fraser Health Region

Moves to IBM Canada as its associate partner and health-care business executive

Becomes VP of information management at Fraser Health

Is appointed to the board of directors at IMPACT Action BC

Becomes VP of planning, informatics, and analytics at Fraser Health

How would you describe Fraser Health’s company culture? How does it aim to make its “great workplace” mandate a reality?
At a company of this size, there are cultures within cultures. The two most important things about our culture, however, are engagement of staff and mutual respect and trust. Knowledge sharing is a big part of building trust and respect. Our medical professionals are able to feel comfortable seeking out knowledge, and we do our best to make it easy for staff to find experts. Employee engagement is also important. We have a group called Engagement Radicals, which are volunteer staff and physicians who seek out new ideas and different voices, ensuring everyone at Fraser Health feels heard.

How is this data helpful to a place like Fraser?How is informatics changing both the industry and Fraser Health?
Informatics is a dynamic domain to work in. There are a few key areas where informatics is changing how health care is delivered. Technology has a way of engaging and optimizing how we work as a team to make care more consistent. It also helps us collect more consistent information. Data capture is critical for care. There are now devices and apps where patients can provide data—they can self-report, and that data is captured. Informatics is all about capturing, storing, and analyzing data. At Fraser Health, we’re encouraging our patients to utilize this technology as a way of empowering themselves to be proactive and take the steps necessary to stay healthy.

Those data points can lead to sophisticated analytics to predict illnesses and inform populations of risk. Analytics is really changing the approach to health care. Before, it was, “You have a problem? Come in and we can fix you.” We are shifting into predicting who is at risk and addressing those concerns before they become a problem. Being proactive in this way can save lives and significantly reduce health-care costs.

What are the challenges of making the proactive approach the only approach?
Technology is so embedded in this work, and it moves quickly, so it requires talent to have a new set of capabilities around clinical informatics. It’s the nexus of IT and clinical work. And, of course, it’s about how to make the information accessible to the right people at the right time.

Talk to me about the idea of making data “liquid.”
Think of it in financial terms. For the most part, data is frozen, locked up in the bank, inaccessible. When data is liquid, it’s accessible and available for use. When data is locked up in a silo, it’s of no use to anyone. When it’s liquid, it can move across the organization in a fluid way, and the right data is available at the right time for the right patient. Given that data drives critical decision-making in health care, it’s even more important that it’s liquid. Health care is a people business, but data plays a huge part. It’s my goal to make it liquid so that we can provide our people with the best care.