Canadian healthcare workers turn to AI for help amid a staffing crisis!

Many countries, including the US, are facing a healthcare staffing crisis, particularly of medical support staff like skilled nurses. This shortage has only gotten worse since the COVID-19 pandemic. Canadian healthcare officials are turning to AI as a novel way to solve the problem.

The flagship example is an AI-driven system implemented by St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto known as  CHARTWatch. Doctors and hospital administrators describe it as an “AI-powered early-warning system,” and so since its inception, it has made a real difference and has saved many lives. Case in point, last year, during one of her shifts on the internal medicine unit, Yuna Lee received an alert on her phone from CHARTWatch, indicating that a patient in the ward was at high risk of dying or needing intensive care.

Dr. Lee, the division head of general internal medicine, checked on the woman and found nothing obviously amiss. She ordered extra blood tests just to be safe. The results revealed the patient’s liver enzymes were elevated, prompting Dr. Lee to call for an ultrasound of her liver.

As the patient was about to be transferred to the imaging department, she spiked a fever and developed pain in her abdomen – the first overt symptoms of what turned out to be an inflamed gallbladder. CHARTWatch, which was developed by St. Michael’s data science team and analyzes hundreds of points of patient data to produce hourly risk scores, had figured out something was seriously wrong before doctors or nurses did!

“That was very surprising,” Dr. Lee said. “It made me go, ‘Wow, CHARTWatch is amazing.’ ”

In the two years since CHARTWatch’s launch, St. Michael’s general internal medicine unit has experienced a nearly 36-per-cent reduction in the relative risk of death among non-palliative patients compared with the same period in the four previous years.

“I am absolutely convinced that advanced data analytics and artificial intelligence is going to transform health care as we know it,” said Tim Rutledge, the president and chief executive officer of Unity Health, the network that includes St. Michael’s, St. Joseph’s Health Centre, and Providence Healthcare. “If we can automate tasks that are now laborious, it allows our clinicians to spend more quality time interacting with patients.”

Rutledge’s assessment is exactly why Canadian healthcare officials believe AI can help alleviate the country’s staffing crisis by taking rote tasks such as writing clinical notes off the plates of overworked nurses and doctors.

Along with CHARTWatch, other AI solutions developed at St. Michael’s include a tool for assigning emergency department nurses to different posts, such as triaging patients or working in the ER’s resuscitation bay. That assigning task, which used to require hours of manual input on an Excel spreadsheet, is now done by an algorithm in less than 15 minutes.

Another tool analyzes patient information that triage nurses punch into their computers and uses the data to produce wait-time estimates that flash on a screen in the ER, cutting down on the number of times harried staff members are asked, “How long will it be?”

Yet another project synthesizes the electronic medical records of patients with multiple sclerosis into a concise, visual timeline that is particularly helpful for junior doctors who may only have a 10-minute window to prepare for an appointment. The model can summarize seven years’ worth of charts in less than two seconds.

As it is in the US, Generative AI and Large Language Model (LLM) solutions are poised to be the next big thing in Canada for healthcare. St. Michale’s in-house AI R&D lab is developing an LLM-powered medical chatbot and automated clinical note generator called “Clinical Camel.”

How BigRio Helps Bring LLM and Advanced AI Solutions to Healthcare

When it comes to leveraging GAI and LLMs for healthcare, there are two primary approaches: utilizing existing models developed by big tech companies like Google or taking the route of St. Michael’s in Canada and developing your own property LLM solutions.

Of course, it is much easier to use an off-the-shelf LLM solution; however, while these “open source” GAI/LLM solutions like ChatGPT have gained significant attention across various fields, including healthcare, they are limited by their need to be non-specific in scope and ability.

Of course, there are many advantages to building an LLM model for your healthcare organization’s unique targets and needs. But not every hospital has the luxury of an in-house AI R&D lab like the one that developed CHARTWatch; however, that’s where BigRio can Help!

Creating a large language model from scratch requires extensive resources, the expertise of AI developers and data scientists, the MLOps team, and computational power. It involves training the model on massive datasets, fine-tuning it through multiple iterations, and optimizing its performance. This process demands substantial time, expertise, and computational resources, including high-performance hardware and storage systems. The good news is that the BigRio team can offer you all of the above and more!

BigRio has long been a facilitator and incubator in leveraging AI to improve healthcare delivery, originally in the field of diagnostics and research. We have recently been focusing our efforts on supporting startups and developing our own solutions that use LLMs and GAI to improve those areas of healthcare as well as in direct patient interactions and customer relationship management.


You can read much more about how AI is redefining healthcare delivery and drug discovery in my new book Quantum Care: A Deep Dive into AI for Health Delivery and Research. It’s a comprehensive look at how AI and machine learning are being used to improve healthcare delivery at every touchpoint.

Rohit Mahajan is a Managing Partner with BigRio. He has particular expertise in the development and design of innovative solutions for clients in Healthcare, Financial Services, Retail, Automotive, Manufacturing, and other industry segments.

BigRio is a technology consulting firm empowering data to drive innovation and advanced AI. We specialize in cutting-edge Big Data, Machine Learning, and Custom Software strategy, analysis, architecture, and implementation solutions. If you would like to benefit from our expertise in these areas or if you have further questions on the content of this article, please do not hesitate to contact us.