Robotic surgery (and AI and 3D printing and the Canadian Senate


Traditionally known as the chamber of sober second thought, one does not expect to look to the Canadian Senate for visionary work on the future of health care in Canada.

But that’s exactly what the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology produced last week in “Challenge Ahead: Integrating Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and 3D Printing Technologies into Canada’s Healthcare Systems.”

The report received little attention on its release but is a fascinating summary of hearings held by the Senate committee on these new technologies based on interviews with a number of experts including prominent medical futurist Dr. Bertalan Mesko (@Berci) and Canadian physician and 3D printing researcher Dr. Julielynn Wong (@JulielynnWong)

“Amazed, humbled and overwhelmed” were the words the senators used in describing the potential impact of robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), and 3D printing on the future of health care in Canada. “Committee members were amazed at the innovations that were presented during the course of this study, humbled by the ingenuity on display and overwhelmed by the potential impact these disruptive innovations can have on the healthcare system.”

The report contains brief overviews of the status of each of these technologies and described how Canada has been in the forefront of their development for use in healthcare.

The report stated: “The innovative technologies addressed in this report are ones that offer, or have the potential to offer, person-centred healthcare. Whether that is a 3D model of a patient’s diseased organ, an AI diagnosis based on a patient’s specific symptoms and circumstances or a robotic arm that responds to a user’s unique needs, these technologies will play an important role in the future of training and education, services to rural and remote regions, home care and personalized medicine.”

Screenshot (325)   The report said Health Canada has indicated current regulations governing medical devices are appropriate for dealing with these new technologies, but added “members were told that in the case of some of the innovative technologies, traditional randomized, controlled trials may not be the most appropriate approach and that the regulator should allow alternative approaches to determine safety and efficacy.”

Some caveats were also mentioned and discussed in the report:

“Despite the enormous potential that rests with these technologies, members were struck by the need to be aware of some unintended consequences of integrating them into healthcare delivery. Concerns included ethical considerations, the impact on employment, difficulties in commercializing innovations, needed adjustments to training and education and updating the regulatory framework for medical devices,” the report concluded. “In order to be successful in integrating robotics, AI and 3D printing into healthcare delivery, Canada has to address the hurdles that lie in the way.”

The bottom line for many witnesses was that if healthcare workers and patients are presented with options that provide better outcomes, they will embrace them.

The report concluded by making a few recommendations beginning with a call for the federal government to convene a National Conference on Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and 3D Printing in healthcare.

(Senate photo copyright Saffron Blaze)


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