Submitted by Carrie Stefanson, senior consultant, Public Affairs

Whether it’s a movie suggestion or an online chat with a virtual assistant like Alexa or Siri to perform tasks or answer queries, artificial intelligence (AI) is weaving its way into our lives in a big way.

Photo: Dr. Scott Cowie, surgeon

In health care, artificial intelligence (AI) is embedded in new technology like the GI Genius, a computer-aided system that works alongside medical teams to improve the overall accuracy of colonoscopies and increase the likelihood of detecting and removing precancerous lesions at an early stage.

To ensure colonoscopy patients have access to this advanced early detection and screening, Fraser Health is investing $1.2 million to purchase and install the GI Genius at 12 sites: Abbotsford Regional Hospital, Burnaby Hospital, Chilliwack General Hospital, Delta Hospital, Eagle Ridge Hospital, Langley Memorial Hospital, Peach Arch Hospital, Royal Columbian Hospital, Ridge Meadows Hospital, Surrey Memorial Hospital, Mission Memorial Hospital and Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgical Centre.

"This is a huge benefit for our patients,” says Dr. Scott Cowie, surgeon, Langley Memorial Hospital. “By detecting and treating polyps early, we’re reducing the risk of missed findings and improving the quality of life for people in our region.”

The GI Genius leverages artificial intelligence to more accurately detect pre-cancerous polyps that form in the intestinal tract and can put people at greater risk for colorectal cancer. The system works with existing technology to provide real-time information that a doctor or endoscopist can use to treat the patient.

The physical equipment resembles a black box with the “genie” being able to “see” polyps or lesions that the human eye might miss.

“The AI system gives us a second set of eyes in the room, with a computer system looking at digital images in real time and drawing the endoscopy team’s attention to something that may be abnormal,” adds Dr. Cowie. “You have an objective observer on your shoulder all the time, not tired, pointing out something that may be of concern.”

Watch Dr. Cowie perform a colonoscopy using the GI Genius:

The Fraser Health Colon Cancer Screening Program is the busiest of its kind in B.C., with more than 13,000 referrals last year. Patients are referred to the program when a fecal immunochemical test (FIT) comes back positive or they are at risk for colon cancer based on a medical condition and/or family history.

If colon cancer is detected at its earliest stage, the chance of survival is more than 90 per cent.

“There is a tremendous amount of work underway globally and within our own organization to enhance health care through research studies that explore the utility of artificial intelligence,” says Kate Keetch, director of Research and Evaluation Services, Fraser Health. “Leveraging AI to better screen for colon cancer is an example of how machine learning is giving us the opportunity to provide better patient care.”

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