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Doctors need to embrace and adapt to new technologies or face the very real possibility that the medical profession as we know it will disappear, a leading e-health innovator is warning.

“What if our very existence is threatened?” Dr. Alejandro Jadad, founder of the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation at University Health Network in Toronto, asked delegates at the Canadian Medical Association Health Summit.

He said technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, blockchain, robotics, genomics, personalized medicine and more are fundamentally changing health-care delivery, and physicians need to adapt or be left behind.

Imagine a cream that contains nanobots that are released into the body and perform surgery or cure an infection without a patient going to the hospital.

“Do you need many years of medical training to apply the cream?” Dr. Jadad asked.

During a hospital stay a decade ago, Dr. Jadad had an epiphany, realizing that all the patients around him wanted the same thing – to not be in a health system that treats them “like a piece of meat on a production line” – and that’s what technology promises.

Instead of resisting technological innovation, physicians need to shift to easing the transition for their patients and provide what they really want – personalized, consumer-friendly care and connectedness.

“If we don’t create the future of medicine, others will do it,” Dr. Jadad said.

Dr. Alexandra Greenhill, a Vancouver family physician who is also the chief executive of Careteam Technologies, had a similar warning about embracing technology or being overrun by it.

“AI is coming. The only choice we have is: Does it happen to us or with us?” she said.

But she said that all technologies need “human input and insight,” particularly for setting priorities and co-ordinating care.

Dr. Mark Dermer, medical director and a telemedicine physician at Dialogue, said what patients really want from technology is more control over their health and better access to care.

“It’s all about access,” he said.

Dr. Dermer said that, in the very near future, the large majority of medical visits will be taking place online and “it won’t just be the stereotypical millennial with a smartphone, it will be people of all ages.”

Dr. Onil Bhattacharyya, a senior scientist at the Women’s College Research Institute, said there are a number of technological building blocks that need to be implemented: virtual care, remote monitoring, care co-ordination platforms, etc., all of which can improve access and reduce costs.

The challenge is to ensure that everyone can access those technologies equitably, he said.

The other challenge is to shift power and money from turf-protecting institutions into the community, where there is greater appetite for innovation, and much opportunity for impact, said Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai and University Health Network in Toronto.

“Sixty per cent of hospital days are frail seniors. They’re in hospital because they don’t have services in the community,” and embracing technology can change that, he said.

The conference heard, time and time again, that patients are keen on technology but physicians tend to be reluctant to adopt new technologies, even those as simple as using e-mail to communicate with patients, but there are also a lot of institutional barriers.

Salim Ismail, an entrepreneur and technology strategist, likened the attitude of health-care administrators to that of the Royal Navy back when sailors were ravaged by scurvy.

“It took them 50 years to admit that feeding sailors lemons could prevent scurvy. We have a lot of simple solutions like that that aren’t being adopted,” he said.

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