The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology
Canadian healthcare system must brace for a technological revolution
October 31, 2017
Imagine being examined for a possible health condition by a medically ‘trained’ robot and examined immediately afterwards by a physician. The physician disagrees with the robot’s diagnosis. Who or what do you believe?
It’s just one fundamental doctor-patient dilemma envisaged in a new report from the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology pointing to the revolutionary changes that are coming to Canada’s healthcare systems with the potential to bring great benefit to patients, physicians and healthcare workers.
The committee’s report released today, Challenge Ahead: Integrating Robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and 3D Printing Technologies into Canada’s Healthcare Systems, cautions that everyone in the business of delivering health services to Canadians must prepare for what will be inevitable and, ultimately, radical change.
In its main recommendation, the report urges the federal government to capitalize on Canada’s leading-edge artificial intelligence research and bring together all stakeholders on a regular basis, as part of expert working groups, to monitor the progress of integration and the ongoing issues raised in its wake.
An initial conference would create those expert working groups and a secretariat to co-ordinate the ongoing work and report progress to the federal government.
This federal backing is crucial for an efficient and successful outcome when Canada’s healthcare systems meet the full-on robotic reality, says the report.
The committee predicts several areas will need specific focus:
- Ethical and privacy considerations
- Healthcare delivery renewal, including home care
- Rural and remote healthcare delivery
- Workforce adjustments, including job losses, job creation, education and training.
- Regulatory oversight
Artificial intelligence industry representatives who appeared before the committee commended federal initiatives that support the development of new healthcare technologies but expressed frustration that getting the final products to market is fraught with obstacles — provincial procurement processes, as an example. These types of challenges can be overcome with mutual help and understanding, which is just one reason why regular meetings of stakeholders will be important.
- Spending on health care exceeds $228 billion annually, but according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, is not keeping pace with inflation and population growth.
- Robotics, artificial intelligence and 3D printing have the potential to reduce healthcare costs and make diagnoses quicker, more accurately, and anticipate some illness so they can be treated more proactively.
- The committee heard evidence that artificial intelligence outperforms healthcare specialists in the diagnoses and classification of skin and breast cancers and other conditions. Similarly, robotic surgeries were described as safer, less invasive and more accurate than traditional surgery.
“People will come to expect the same service on their bodies that they get now for their cars. They will want it fixed and want it fixed today – not months or even years from now. Today, you might have the most brilliant surgeon on the planet, but there is absolutely no guarantee you will get to see him or her before it’s too late.”
— Senator Kelvin Kenneth Ogilvie, Chair of the committee
“Above all we will have to educate both healthcare workers and their patients to build trust in these new and developing technologies. For example, if artificial intelligence disagrees with the doctor’s diagnosis or method of treatment, who does the patient believe and will the doctor be prepared to accept that perhaps the robot has got it right?”
— Senator Art Eggleton, P.C., Deputy Chair of the committee
- Read the report Challenge Ahead: Integrating Robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and 3D Printing Technologies into Canada’s Healthcare Systems.
- Learn more about this study.
- Follow the committee on social media using the hashtag #SOCI.
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