Helping save lives in Quebec’s remote communities with artificial intelligence

Accessing medical care in remote Northern communities can be challenging; particularly during a health crisis. Hospitals in remote Quebec communities often rely on specialists in larger cities like Montreal to analyze x-rays and CT scans or patients must be sent to urban centres for treatment. 

Dr. Reza Forghani and Dr. Caroline Reinhold are spearheading a project to streamline access to health care for remote communities. Their project uses artificial intelligence to analyze medical images like x-rays and CT scans. This project has the potential to reduce wait times and travel time, provide more efficient care, and save lives.

“Technology allows us to make health care available to all places regardless of distance. It also accelerates care by providing a much more timely diagnosis by using these exciting technologies that are being developed and used in health care,” says Dr. Reza Forghani.

Dr. Reza Forghani

CT scans are used as a “workhorse” first-line imaging to diagnose urgent conditions such as strokes, internal bleeding and inner infections. Often, remote regions in the province do not have access to a dedicated radiologist. In some rural communities, doctors rely on radiologists from other regions, like Montreal, during emergencies to analyze x-rays and CT scans.

Dr. Forghani and Dr. Reinhold, the Co-Directors of the Augmented Intelligence & Precision Health Laboratory at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC), will use artificial intelligence to analyze emergency medical images, allowing for fast prioritization of life-threatening conditions like strokes, collapsed lung or perforated bowels. 

“In a country like Canada with large geographic areas that are so sparsely populated, delivering quality and timely health care to patients can be particularly challenging—especially for our remote communities,” said Dr. Caroline Reinhold. “We are trying to leverage this state-of-the-art technology to improve the quality and allow for the timely delivery of care to our remote communities.” 

Dr. Caroline Reinhold

Radiologists at the MUHC analyze over 150,000 x-rays and 95,000 CT scans every year. They are also responsible for examining approximately 50,000 x-rays and 1,000 ultrasounds per year from Northern Health regions. The project’s AI technology will detect high-risk issues and send them to the radiologist on duty to examine. From there, the radiologist can contact the patient’s treating physician so doctors can quickly treat the patient. 

“In remote communities, every second counts when it comes to dispensing urgent care. We know that patients who suffer a stroke in rural communities are 30% more likely to die than patients in urban areas,” says Julie Quenneville, President and CEO of the MUHC Foundation. “This project, developed by our experts, has the potential to help save countless lives.” 

TD Bank Group has generously donated $1 million to the MUHC Foundation in support of Dr. Forghani and Dr. Reinhold’s project. The donation was made through the bank’s corporate citizenship platform, the TD Ready Commitment. The bank hopes this project will help improve equity and equality in health care access in remote communities.

“We are determined to increase our investment in research, technology and innovative solutions that are focused on helping to provide equality of access to health care,” says Sylvie Demers, Chair, Quebec Market, TD Bank Group. “The MUHC Foundation’s project is geared to help improve access to radiology, which in turn can help improve early diagnosis and detection for the benefit of the health of isolated communities in Quebec.” 

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