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The Future of Canadian Health Care and AI

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AI Health Care Header
Supported by:

Ying Tam

Managing Director,
MaRS Health Venture Services

Based in Toronto at global innovation hub MaRS Discovery District, Ying Tam is the Managing Director of MaRS Health Venture Services, where he works with entrepreneurs to build high-impact, high-growth ventures and innovative health ecosystems to improve health outcomes and positively impact patients’ lives. 

Mediaplanet: How is artificial intelligence revolutionizing the health landscape?

Ying Tam: The human body is incredibly complex and our minds can’t manage and make sense of all that information on their own. Artificial intelligence (AI) is able to augment researchers’ and clinicians’ capacities by sifting through vast amounts of data to quickly and reliably surface the important information, like an image from a batch of scans that shows signs of cancer or a molecule that could lead to a life-saving therapeutic. AI is starting to make a difference in improving clinical efficiency by sounding the alarm about early signs of disease and helping scientists and clinicians focus their efforts where they are needed most.

What are some of the biggest AI trends in the health care field?

Canadian companies are leveraging machine learning to develop new therapies, diagnostics, and therapeutic treatments. We’re seeing companies like Deep Genomics and Atomwise apply the massive data-crunching power of AI in the search for new therapeutics to make the drug-discovery process faster and more precise. Toronto-based venture Analytics 4 Life is using AI to listen to and analyze a patient’s heartbeat to detect coronary artery disease, reducing the need for lengthy, costly, and invasive tests.

How can patients access the benefits of AI technologies?

“Doctors, clinicians, and health organizations are already putting select AI-powered technologies into practice, enabling patients to access the benefits.”

Doctors, clinicians, and health organizations are already putting select AI-powered technologies into practice, enabling patients to access the benefits. Swift Medical, a Toronto-based startup, has developed a smartphone tool that evaluates the severity of wounds using AI. It’s being used with over 100,000 patients a month. BlueDot is using big data to track, predict, and prevent the spread of infectious diseases from the Ebola and Zika viruses to the flu.

The BlueDot team has worked with public health officials for years and recently launched a travel app called George Health Companion to help people stay informed about diseases in regions where they’re travelling. AI-powered chatbots developed by Toronto-based startup conversationHEALTH help patients stay on track with their medications, appointments, and other reminders. Patients can also access health bots via apps like Facebook Messenger or Slack.

What are some issues that AI might present in the health care industry?

The successful adoption of AI in health care introduces technological, regulatory, ethical, and system challenges. The data infrastructure required to manage and store the vast datasets needed by AI is going to involve massive upgrades by health care institutions. Regulatory processes must also change to account for AI solutions that are evolving based on changing data inputs. Finally, there are a variety of questions around the oversight of AI — how do we clinically validate an AI solution? What do we do if an AI error or bias negatively impacts a patient’s outcomes or causes harm?

How will these issues affect the Canadian health care industry?

As a single-payer health care system, Canada has an AI advantage through its large repository of diverse health data. Ontario, for example, has a database that tracks every interaction a patient has had with the health system going back to the mid-1980s. Despite this, the development cycle for AI technologies will place strains on an already stressed system. As health care costs continue to rise and we risk falling behind in health care delivery, AI offers solutions we can’t afford not to embrace.

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