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Transforming healthcare in Ottawa with the power of AI

Dr. Doug Manuel, Ottawa Hospital doctor leading the healthcare shift to AI

Dr. Doug Manuel says he moved to Ottawa from Toronto 15 years ago for a few reasons, but one above all stood out: The forward-looking and innovative nature of The Ottawa Hospital.

“I was impressed by the hospital,” explains Manuel, a senior scientist, University of Ottawa professor, and Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Chair in Applied Public Health. “At that time, it had the best emerging information system for doing research and integrating patient care.”

That penchant for innovation and data that impressed Dr. Manuel all those years ago has now taken the next step, as the hospital accelerates its use of predictive modeling and AI technologies through initiatives such as the TD Artificial Intelligence in Medicine (AIM) Hub.

A history of medical innovation

The Ottawa Hospital has been at the forefront of medical innovations for years, from the development of the widely-used Ottawa Ankle Rules in the early 90s to more recent algorithms that accurately estimate a newborn’s gestational age. 

The hospital has been a major player in developing advanced decision support tools, predictive algorithms, and decision algorithms, thanks partly to its industry-leading big data analytics platform. In Dr. Manuel’s view, that has made the jump to AI and more advanced predictive algorithms more of an evolution than a revolution. 

He says the hospital’s strength isn’t just around the development of such innovations but also in their implementation. “Not a lot of places have been able to implement these kinds of algorithms,” he says. “But we’ve been implementing algorithms for a long time, and now it’s evolving more into AI.”

When the hospital’s new campus opens, it will include a command centre that will use big data to provide 360-degree situational awareness, along with the coexistence of researchers and clinicians in the same space. Dr. Manuel says the latter, especially, will accelerate the pace of innovation even more.

The power of AI and predictive modeling

The upshot of The Ottawa Hospital’s work in AI and predictive modeling is simple: Better and more personalized healthcare resulting in better health outcomes. “It’ll mean more effective care,” he says. “We envision that instead of just the patient and the clinician, it’s going to be the patient, clinician, and the AI agent working together.”

Indeed, AI-powered technologies can analyze reams of patient data in seconds – such as quickly scanning thousands of medical images for anomalies, which a human physician can then analyze and confirm, reducing time spent by orders of magnitude. AI can be a powerful tool for diagnosing and treating various chronic diseases, including diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

And these tools could help eliminate or scale down manual work, such as drafting referral letters or summarizing complicated medical reports for review. 

Dr. Manuel says that could help scale physicians so they can spend less time on routine work and more on value-added activities such as patient interactions. “It’ll help the patient and the physician be able to spend more time talking about options and priorities,” he explains, adding that AI will do much of the preliminary diagnostic work in advance. 

“The AI could do that work ahead of time, so you can spend more time with the clinician talking about how to tailor your therapy.” 

AI in action at The Ottawa Hospital

This isn’t some hazy or overly rosy view of the future, however. AI and predictive algorithms using big data are already in use at The Ottawa Hospital, with one of the most well-known being predictive wastewater analysis during the COVID-19 pandemic in partnership with uOttawa.

“The wastewater work is a good example of why I came to Ottawa in the first place,” he says. “Ottawa is a leader in wastewater analysis. And I think that reflects the ability of the hospital to work with other researchers on innovative activities.”

Dr. Manuel explains predictive analytics is an excellent example of how different institutes across our community can work together to have true integrated health care. 

“The Ottawa Hospital and CHEO led the development of COVID-19 testing at Brewer – with predictive algorithms developed within weeks of data collection. We supported the uOttawa wastewater program and applied analytics to predict the future trend of Covid-19 using wastewater. We also collaborate and implement predictive algorithms in long-term care and other pre-hospital settings as well.”

There’s also the upcoming AIM Hub, made possible via a $2-million donation from TD Bank Group and which will be led by Dr. Manuel. He says it will help accelerate the development of algorithms from several years, in some cases, to a matter of days. 

It all adds up to an exciting and innovative future at The Ottawa Hospital – exactly what Dr. Manuel signed up for when he came to the city.