Task force calls for national health AI strategy
July 22, 2020
TORONTO – Canada’s strong international competitiveness in AI and the quality of our healthcare are at risk if we do not develop a national AI for Health (AI4H) Strategy. This is among the key findings in a new report from the Artificial Intelligence for Health Task Force, a Canadian multi-stakeholder group convened by CIFAR.
The new report is called “Building a Learning Health System for Canadians: Report of the CIFAR Task Force on Artificial Intelligence for Health.”
The authors identify the gaps in Canada’s health data sharing, a long-standing problem made even more evident in the pandemic. They also highlight the opportunities presented by Canada’s strong AI talent pool, fostered through the CIFAR Pan-Canadian AI Strategy, the first of its kind in the world.
Their key recommendation is that the Government of Canada, along with provincial/territorial governments, should collaborate urgently in developing an AI for Health strategy in lockstep with broader plans to accelerate digital healthcare innovation.
The Task Force includes:
David Naylor, co-chair (President Emeritus, University of Toronto)
Tim Evans, co-chair (Director and Associate Dean, School of Population and Global Health at McGill University)
Elissa Strome (AVP of Research, CIFAR; Executive Director, Pan-Canadian AI Strategy)
David Dodge (former Governor, Bank of Canada)
Michael Strong (President, CIHR)
Alan Bernstein (President & CEO, CIFAR)
According to the task force report, Canada has lagged behind many peer nations in its pace of uptake of digital healthcare innovations. This situation is impeding the development and scaling of AI applications in healthcare delivery and research. Accordingly, “the time is now for Canada to make strategic investments in a national AI for health strategy to leverage all of our strengths, foster collaboration and coordination across sectors and jurisdictions, and deliver better health for Canadians and the world.”
Government action relevant to AI for Health (AI4H) is urgently needed on three broad fronts:
- Establishing AI4H infostructure that enables responsible access to health data while ensuring data are secure and privacy is protected The types of comprehensive datasets that will optimize the impact of AI in the health sphere cannot be created without strong public engagement to help guide terms and conditions for their use. More generally, members of the public and patients should be included as active partners in the development, governance and evaluation of AI4H policies and strategies.
- Accelerating the development of safe, high-performance AI4H applications by both public institutions and private enterprises, alongside deployment of incentives that promote strategic procurement and responsible scaling of these applications within Canada’s healthcare systems This involves two mutually reinforcing elements. One is smart development and procurement of AI within Canada’s publicly funded healthcare systems. The other is an effective commercialization plan, supporting the growth of Canadian-led AI4H enterprises through both direct and indirect funding, targeted procurement, and facilitating access to international markets. Success in both domains depends critically on the implementation of the right set of incentives.
- Ensuring that federal and provincial/territorial plans to advance digital health are coupled to an explicit AI4H strategy with the relevant policies, investments, partnerships, and regulatory frameworks Such a plan should aim to ramp up research, enable improvements in healthcare delivery and population health policymaking, and facilitate the development of scalable AI4H innovations under the aegis of both private enterprises and public institutions. Without this alignment, Canadians will not reap the full health benefits of the opportunities available from responsible use of AI and machine learning more generally.
Further recommendations relating to these three fronts for action can be found in the body of the Task Force report. These recommendations are intended to lay foundations for a national, coordinated, and integrated effort that will help Canada take full advantage of transformative new technologies that are rooted in Canadian research and have widely-recognized potential for use in every corner of the world and by people in every conceivable walk of life. Failure to seize these opportunities will have adverse consequences for the quality and efficiency of our healthcare systems, the health of our communities, and the prosperity of the nation. We call on the Government of Canada and all interested provincial/territorial governments to collaborate urgently in developing an AI4H strategy in lockstep with broader plans to accelerate digital healthcare innovation.