2020 CHIA Award Winner Dr. Richard Lester

December 16, 2020 – Today we are pleased to announce that Dr. Richard Lester (WelTel Incorporated and WelTel International mHealth Society) is the winner of the 2020 Clinical Innovator Award. The Clinical Innovator Award recognizes an individual who has shown outstanding leadership in Canada in advancing the use of digital health or virtual health in clinical practice resulting in improved provider and patient experiences and outcomes.

Dr. Lester is a practicing Infectious Diseases Physician at Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), an Associate Professor of Global Health at the University of British Columbia (UBC) Faculty of Medicine, and a Researcher at the VCH Research Institute.

Dr. Lester is known globally as a pioneer in the field of digital health, having developed a program that harnesses mobile phone communications between patients and caregivers to improve HIV/AIDS care and treatment. His randomized clinical trial evaluating the program found that patients supported by 2-way text messaging better adhered to their medication and achieved undetectable levels of virus in their blood, providing landmark evidence for mHealth to improve health outcomes in resource-limited settings. This work enabled Dr. Lester to become the first recipient of Grand Challenges Canada’s’ Stars in Global Health’ $1M grant to scale 2-way text messaging in remote Kenya.

Over the last decade the WelTel service and model have been introduced into the Canadian and other healthcare systems. Integrating clinical and academic activities with innovation and commercialization, Dr. Lester co-founded the WelTel International mHealth Society, a non-profit supporting evidence-based mobile digital health in resource-limited settings, and a social enterprise, WelTel Incorporated, to scale the integrated patient engagement and virtual care service for a wide variety of conditions in primary and specialty care. With his team, Dr. Lester has designed, implemented and validated WelTel’s virtual care solutions in various clinical settings including:

  • Maternal Neonatal and Child Health (MNCH) and HIV needs in northern Kenya and the Nairobi
  • Family HIV clinic in Kigali, Rwanda and the Oak Tree Women’s HIV clinic at BC Women’s Hospital
  • HIV Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis clinics in the USA
  • First Nations primary care hospital clinics in Haida Gwaii and aboriginal adolescents at risk for HIV and Hepatitis C
  • Acute and infectious disease specialty clinics in BC from pediatric solid organ transplant and cardiology to TB, HIV, and asthma
  • Harm reduction in Vancouver’s downtown east side, through anonymous reporting of bad dope in an epidemic opioid crisis

Dr. Lester is funded by some of the world’s leading peer reviewed funding agencies including the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), National Institutes of Health (NIH), President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR), Centres for Disease Control (CDC), the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR) and National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP). Leveraging a University of British Columbia MSFHR grant for innovation to commercialization, Dr. Lester is currently using Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing to develop a set of smart-text-analytic-tools to analyze patient and care provider communication data in the form of open natural language text.

Importantly, in response to the recent Coronavirus epidemic, Dr. Richard successfully acquired a Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Rapid Research grant from Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to develop remote care models using 2-way text messaging for quarantined patients.

Dr. Lester is published in top tier medical journals including The Lancet, the NEJM, and Nature. He has been featured in The Economist, CNN Money, the New Yorker, Kathmandu Post, and CBC’s The National (Making Canada Proud, 2009). His publications have been cited over 2000 times and have contributed to WHO and other guidelines. Richard contributes to expert panels with world-leading organizations including the OECD, the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, African Ministries of Health, and at international conferences around the globe.

Dr. Lester’s impact in the digital health space is deep and broad and his contribution to patient care in both low and high resource settings is significant.

Congratulations on your award, Dr. Lester!

Learn more about the 2020 Canadian Health Informatics Awards here.