McMaster School of Biomedical Engineering and Electrical & Computer Engineering Associate Professor Tom Doyle
Imagine you need medical attention but hundreds of miles away from the nearest hospital.
Lack of access to health care is a troubling reality for many people living in remote communities across Canada, and that’s exactly what Tom Doyle is trying to change.
A McMaster School of Biomedical Engineering and Electrical & Computer Engineering associate professor and a team of researchers are creating a medical unit that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to diagnose and treat patients remotely. They hope to test it in the farthest place of all: space.
The Medical Care and Communication Integrator (MCCOI or “McCoy”) designed by Doyle and his team is an advanced decision support platform for remote medical support. It can analyze physiological, environmental and historical data to help diagnose and treat patients where access to highly trained professionals may be limited.
By entering patient data including medical history, condition and test results into the MCCOI system, AI algorithms can process and synthesize the information using probabilistic models to identify complex relationships and offer guidance.
“You can follow a parent, family member or friend on the street to keep track of their health, and we can support them remotely,” says Doyle.
The MCCOI evaluates a patient’s risk factors, demographics, and conditions to gain an understanding of their health status. By analyzing patterns and correlations in the data, the AI system narrows down potential diagnoses and provides valuable insights to support decision-making.
In addition to supporting patients and their healthcare providers remotely, Doyle also sees opportunities to use MCCOI for simulation and training purposes.
Testing and applications in space
Testing the MCCOI in space, Doyle says, will provide insight into how it can be used to support continuous health analysis of astronauts while exposing the system to extreme conditions.
“Healthcare in space is a fringe field. You could say that it will only support a few astronauts, but we feel that if we can keep an astronaut alive and well in space, we can also support the local people.”
MCCOI is just the latest in Doyle’s long-term research into improving health care in remote locations. Together with Dr. David Musson, they founded Lunar Medical, which created the Connected Care Medical Module (C2M2), a comprehensive system that integrates various medical devices and systems into a single platform to provide remote healthcare support.
This fall, Doyle and his colleagues will be among five teams to present their medical support platforms to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). They hope MCCOI will be considered for deployment in remote Canadian communities with future consideration of supporting Canada’s contribution to the Artemis, Gateway and other human space exploration missions.
Doyle recently presented an overview of his research at the Canadian Lunar Workshop 2023. “My goal was to say [the CSA] about the many problems that exist in medical AI on Earth,” he says. “We need to fix them before we go into space, but also look at what the next steps are, like the human-autonomous team. As for the existing challenges, we should use them because AI is the tool that supports us. We just want to make sure he supports us in the best possible way.”
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