Adam Kassam is the chief resident physician in the department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at Western University in London, Ont.. Naila Kassam is a family physician and adjunct professor in the department of Family Medicine at Western University.
Canada has emerged as a world leader in artificial intelligence, thanks in large part to the life’s work of Geoffrey Hinton, the Google Engineering Fellow and University of Toronto cognitive-psychologist-cum-computer-scientist who is considered the godfather of deep learning. By honing the incredible potential of neural nets — the assembly of computer networks — in a way that mirrors the architecture of the human brain, Dr. Hinton has unlocked the learning power of machines. In so doing, he has become the darling of a burgeoning area of computing that has the ability to completely revolutionize the practice of medicine and the delivery of health care.
As AI begins to take off, will the health-care industry be receptive to technological disruption despite its notorious aversion to change? What is clear is that it will be crucial for the medical community to use its clinical expertise to help leverage technology and AI to improve the delivery of health care. Indeed, this has already begun.
Machine learning, for example, can help identify patterns of relevant signs and symptoms in patients to improve diagnostic accuracy. In the area of medical imaging, the utilization of which has expanded due to growing patient volume, algorithms are teaching computers to better refine, improve and interpret radiologic studies. Intelligent programs are helping to predict the type of patients that would most benefit from rehabilitation services, thereby aiding in the implementation of specific personalized therapies. Other AI technologies are also being created to augment the care of the elderly, which, for the aging Canadian society, will be a welcome addition to the landscape of home and nursing care for years to come.
Importantly, technology has the potential to liberate physicians from the tedious paperwork that has come to plague the profession. This would enable doctors to ultimately spend more time with their patients. Imagine, for instance, an intelligent voice recognition software that would automatically create a note for a patient encounter in the electronic medical record. This would significantly reduce the need that doctors have for looking at a screen instead of interacting with the individual in their clinic. In order for AI to have a positive impact on patients, health-care institutions and leaders need to become invested as important stakeholders in the conversation by championing the advantages that technology confers.
They could start by encouraging collaboration between the medical and engineering faculties at universities. Medical schools and residency training programs should create opportunities in their curricula for exposure to AI. This could take the form of electives, dual-degree or fellowship programs that could combine areas of expertise. As physicians develop a deeper understanding of AI, they can help to curate synergies to ameliorate the patient experience.
Similarly, governments can help by creating the right ecosystem for growth. Recent investments in the development of AI infrastructures should be viewed as a positive first step. This, however, should be supported by federal and provincial policies that harness the success of the Toronto-Waterloo Region Corridor and the Montreal AI environment, through streamlined immigration policies to attract tech talent from around the world, and improved high-speed transportation services to shuttle people between locales.
One concern that AI raises is the spectre of job loss. However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that health care was the largest source of jobs in 2017 and is predicted to be the largest contributor to job growth in the next decade. This is relevant to Canada given our similar demographics and the projection that the public will experience a worsening doctor shortage, requiring more, not fewer, providers. Additionally, technology will actually help to alleviate the burden on health-care providers, not replace them.
Ultimately, every industry will have to evolve with emerging technology, and medicine is no different. By strengthening its partnerships, the health care community would ensure that Canada continues its AI excellence by also enhancing patient care and improving outcomes.