Health workforce at the centre of AI’s transformation of our health systems: e-Health conference

June 5, 2024

Modernizing our health data systems so information can flow smoothly is where Canada’s health systems are heading, participants at this year’s e-Health conference were told, and we also heard about the many exciting advances in AI and how the health workforce must play a central role.

New advances in natural language processing, smart bots, movement scanners, and a variety of other innovations will all be part of our future, with several health regions developing a ‘digital twin’ that can centralize and analyze all aspects of health data to help policy makers evaluate options for planning across the continuum of patient care.

We heard about privacy compliant digital tracking pods that can track the movements of patients and health care providers in hospitals to identify things like patient falls and adequate staff hand washing. There was even a humanized bot-interface that could speak directly with patients and answer questions just like a real person, and a friendly smile to boot!

Much of the work is still in its infancy, with companies collaborating to develop AI tools that solve for meaningful problems in the system. That collaboration will be key. Many people spoke about the need to break down processes into their components, to explore where AI can be inserted to achieve efficiencies in workflows. Others spoke about the need for effective governance structures for AI projects, so that data sharing, privacy and patient consent continue to be a priority. Perhaps most importantly, there was pervasive messaging that AI should support health care providers in doing their work, but leave decision making up to humans.

I left the conference with a sense that we are on the cusp of some big and important changes in health care, and that health care providers need to be central to the AI evolution. The health workforce will not only be part of health system transformation, it will be a key enabler of it. It was clear to me that, in the end, humans will need to adopt these new AI technologies into their workflows, and it will be humans that will be the catalyst for change.

Deb Cohen is Chief Operating Officer of Health Workforce Canada

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