Scholarship Finalist BC - Vishwathsen Karthikeyan

Precision Medicine, AI and Individualized Care: 2019 Scholarship Finalist (BC)

Vishwathsen Karthikeyan

University of British Columbia – Doctor of Medicine – 2021

A 65 year old woman living in rural BC notices a painless rash on her back but does not seek care. Months later, her partner asks her to visit her GP, who diagnoses a seborrheic keratosis. The following year, she travels to Vancouver to visit a friend who happens to be a nurse and advises her to get it examined again. 2 months later, at a dermatologist’s clinic, a biopsy of the specimen reveals invasive melanoma.

This is the discrepancy that patients face in isolated areas with minimal access to resources. Multidisciplinary care is increasingly becoming a standard model of healthcare practice incorporating the full spectrum of health determinants from medical to cultural that influence each individual’s health. However, despite large-scale efforts for providing equitable care, there remains severe barriers in accessibility. A proactive model is required to ensure that patients do not slip through the cracks and their issues are identified early in order to maintain
their goals and quality of life.

Precision medicine is one way of achieving this model of care, and is where I hope to focus my efforts as a future physician. Specifically, I hope to leverage disruptive technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), to achieve the goal of individualized prevention and treatment strategies that take into account the inherent variability of patients. Having dedicated my pre-clerkship years of medical school learning both foundational medical knowledge and broadening my understanding of AI, I have come to see that it is imperative for healthcare professionals (HCP) to acquire a basic knowledge of how AI works to leverage these tools and augment clinical care. AI can now perform robust analysis of large amounts of easily accessible personalized data such as biomarkers, psychosocial data, diet, imaging, genome analysis, history and physical examination findings, providing an opportunity to create individualized care plans that enhance preventative care. My passion lies in creating an ecosystem of data-literate HCPs to safely utilize these new tools to their maximum potential. As the role of AI in medicine continues to expand, HCPs will need to expand their skill-set and scope of practice.

While there is increasing formal research exploring AI based medical applications, there has been little discussion on educating present and future medical professionals in this domain. With little to no training on critically evaluating the utility of such products, HCPs could face major barriers in embracing and incorporating these tools into their workflow. I am striving to create awareness and interest in AI within the medical community to augment personalized medicine by promoting collaborative interdisciplinary innovation. This past year, I recorded a podcast series that explores the intersection of AI in medicine, highlighting topics such as recent advancements in the field, educational resources, and healthcare disparities. In addition, I am currently working on creating a media platform including a newsletter and workshop series dedicated to empowering HCPs to innovate by equipping them with the skills necessary to conduct a comprehensive needs assessment. A well-developed needs evaluation is essential for identifying meaningful healthcare problems and gives rise to novel solutions.

My vision is for increased HCP-led innovation targeted towards addressing discrepancies in health care, while embodying the core values of medicine such as empathy and equality. I will further collaborate with engineering and computer science fields to continue to educate and provide opportunities for HCPs to have the skills and resources to improve our
standards of care. I would like to set up a network where HCPs can collaborate online with experts around the world in different fields to support one another and brainstorm ways to create an equitable healthcare system that prioritizes precision medicine.

Through these efforts, we will be able to creatively generate strategies for early diagnosis and prevention, helping mitigate discrepancies in outcomes between rural and urban centers. As I progress in my medical training, I hope to continue expanding on these efforts in empowering HCPs with the potential of technology in transforming medicine from a population based approach to true person-centered care.