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Artificial intelligence (AI) and emerging digital technologies

Recognizing the importance of advanced technology in health care, the Royal College Council commissioned a task force in 2018 to help the medical profession in Canada prepare for the profound changes that artificial intelligence (AI) and emerging digital technologies will bring to residency training and delivery of care.

The Task Force on Artificial Intelligence and Emerging Digital Technologies was mandated to conduct extensive research into the current and future states of these technologies and to provide recommendations to Council about how to meet the challenges and opportunities these technologies present to the Royal College.

Members of the task force include experts in AI and Fellows of the Royal College. The task force consulted widely with key stakeholders, reviewed the current literature, surveyed Fellows and Resident Affiliates, formally interviewed more than 20 authorities in the field, and formally engaged a group of Fellows of the Royal College with expertise in AI and emerging digital technologies.

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The task force further recognizes that the technology landscape will continue to evolve. Therefore, this report is not the endpoint of exploration. The Royal College will have to ensure that it prepares and supports medical specialists to function appropriately in the unfolding world of AI and digital technology in health care.

Report recommendations

The task force’s recommendations are summarized below.

Anticipated impacts on medical practice

The Committee on Specialties of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada continue to regularly monitor the health of individual disciplines, assessing the impact of AI and emerging digital technologies. At this time there are no recommendations to alter the number and complement of specialist physicians being trained in Canada.

A new fundamental competency

Digital health literacy competencies should be integrated into the CanMEDS Framework.

Changes to physician practice

As a matter of urgency, develop processes to address the current challenges faced by all specialties in developing new competencies or making career changes that may be needed as a result of the impact of AI and emerging digital technologies on specialty medicine.

Emerging careers

  • Consider introducing a new discipline in the area of Clinical Informatics.
  • Partner with Canadian medical schools to promote AI and MD/PhD programs and clinician investigator programs focused on digital technology to ensure opportunities for training in this area and encourage a cadre of “clinical innovators” in AI in health care.

AI in health is team science

The Royal College should play an active role in supporting Fellows and Resident Affiliates to co-develop, refine, validate and spread AI-enabled technologies.

New products and advancements

Working with individual disciplines and the Committee on Specialties, develop guidelines and principles for integrating the teaching of AI and emerging digital technologies across all residency training programs, and incorporate these teachings as a component of continuous professional development (CPD) for current Fellows.

A complementary addition to the medical team

Promote the development of new opportunities that support Fellows and Resident Affiliates in working with innovators in the public, not-for-profit and private sectors to co-develop, refine, validate and spread AI and emerging digital technologies and take into account considerations for conflict of interest.

AI – a potential democratizer of health care

Implement mechanisms to include patients’ perspectives in all facets of AI-related decision-making to ensure that multiple, diverse perspectives are represented.

Ethical and legal considerations

Collaborate with partner organizations to develop, tailor, curate and distribute educational offerings related to privacy, discrimination, safety and other ethical and legal concerns arising from adopting AI into health care systems.

Social accountability

Promote, enable and extend scholarship, education and other forms of support to physicians that increase their knowledge of the social justice implications of AI-based technologies.

Institutional considerations

Establish a working group to review how best to apply AI to support elements of the Royal College’s operations, particularly in relation to its role as an examining body. The working group should also consider ways AI could improve the analysis of data collected by the Royal College and address issues pertaining to data governance and ownership.

Surveillance and monitoring of AI advancements

Develop an ongoing monitoring and development strategy to address the need for further recommendations in the field of AI and emerging digital technologies.