Disruption and recovery: AI’s role in post-pandemic healthcare


By Dr. Helia Mohammadi, Chief Data Scientist & Healthcare Industry Lead, Microsoft Canada

It’s often said that necessity is the mother of invention and crisis is the father. Over the past year, we’ve seen innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning transform Canada’s healthcare system in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The care that patients receive, and the methods in which hospitals deliver care, has dramatically evolved with the introduction of advanced technologies and the increasing availability of data. Many of the changes put in place today will continue to help medical professionals deliver personalized care to Canadians in new and innovative ways in a post-pandemic world.

Recently, Microsoft Canada hosted an engaging virtual discussion with The Logic that explored AI’s role in Canada’s healthcare system. Moderated by David Skok, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of The Logic, the panel featured fascinating insights from Soyean Kim, Director of Digital Products at Providence Health Care, Katy Yam, General Manager of FounderFuel at Real Ventures, and Dr. Fahad Razak, physician and scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital and the University of Toronto.

The new paradigm for healthcare is the use of real-time data and AI to enable a predictive and prescriptive analytical approach. However, it is critical to consider ethical responsibilities when building AI solutions for healthcare. We must study potential human harm, transparency, bias, accountability, risks, inclusiveness, among other factors, to build trust among healthcare professionals and patients. AI works best when it’s augmenting human experts. Having these tools available to physicians will help predict future condition of patients based on early warning signs, provide recommended medications based on the successful treatment of similar patients and reveal best practices in operations management by comparing data from multiple facilities. And there’s still work to be done. While Dr. Razak is optimistic the impact of AI in medicine, he highlighted a barrier with data integration and the connection to frontline care delivery.

Data access for the right user at the right time, in addition to reliable and secure care collaboration platforms, are key. Soyean Kim noted that there has to be a foundational data operation pipeline that meets compliance requirements to really take advantage of AI’s potential and also tap into the data that we already have.

“This is one area where Providence Health Care has made an investment,” said Kim. “We recognize working as part of an ecosystem of partners, we’re not going to do all the development ourselves, we have to work with partners. The number one consideration is how do we share this data with our partners and researchers securely and in a safe manner.”

Applying advanced analytics to massive amounts of data from internal and external sources like clinical analytics and environmental systems can help health organizations glean deeper insights. These systems of insight are the next evolution of digital transformation. “Data is fundamentally the source of innovation,” said Katy Yam. “We have an amazing ecosystem of start-ups and entrepreneurs in Canada. How do we leverage all of the work that CIFAR has done and all the investments we have made and all the schools in AI? We need to feed them data.”

At Microsoft, we are closely collaborating with our customers and partners to solve some of the big challenges in healthcare by connecting data and systems in the cloud and by putting safety measures and health guidelines in place for healthcare organizations. We are seeing a shift towards Microsoft Teams deployment within healthcare organizations, especially during the pandemic. A common secure platform is needed for care teams to access clinical information, share their diagnosis and communicate critical information to the right patient team. And with the new Bookings app in Teams, providers can schedule, manage and conduct virtual visits with patients.

Virtual care is one of the major ways in which Dr. Razak believes healthcare has improved. “Whether that is virtual access to a specialist using virtual devices or the monitoring of patients so that we don’t have to go in and out frequently,” said Dr. Razak. “All of the virtual care models have changed more rapidly in the last year than I’ve ever seen at any time in my career and they will definitely outlast this pandemic in a very positive way.”

Virtual care also helps Canadians living in remote communities gain greater access to care and those managing chronic care issues are empowered to manage their own treatment with more access to their own data.

When faced with a crisis, Canada’s healthcare industry proved its resiliency and demonstrated that there is no shortage of visionary solutions. I’m inspired by the digital transformation that swept the sector and the innovative ways in which providers have reinvented how personalized care is delivered to patients. It was enlightening to hear insights from the panelists on their key learnings, best practices and thoughts on what’s next for AI in healthcare. If you didn’t have a chance to attend the panel, it’s available on demand here.


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