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Partners Explores “Transformative” Realities of AI in Healthcare

At the World Medical Innovation Forum, Partners HealthCare will combine futurism with reality to explore the state of artificial intelligence in healthcare.

AI in healthcare at the world medical innovation forum

Source: Thinkstock

By Jennifer Bresnick

- Partners HealthCare in Massachusetts is one of the nation’s epicenters of healthcare research, quality care delivery, and innovative health IT design.

From MGH and Harvard Medical School to Brigham and Women’s and the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, the vast resources at the command of researchers and clinicians make the health system the perfect place to experiment with and deploy cutting-edge ideas.

It’s no wonder, then, that the Partners World Medical Innovation Forum (WMIF) is one of the industry’s premier events, attracting top-level faculty from around the health system as well as leading executives from some of healthcare’s biggest players.

The three-day event usually focuses on a different theme every year.  Past conferences have zeroed in on neurology, oncology, and cardiac care, exploring the intersection between diagnostics, best practices, analytics, and the financial strategies that make it all work.

In 2018, Partners shifted its gaze to artificial intelligence in healthcare, with the goal of breaking down the challenges and opportunities of machine learning to provide enhanced decision support to clinicians across the care continuum.

Normally, the 2019 edition of the WMIF would follow the pattern and move on to yet another area of focus.

But leaders at the health system made an atypical decision: to stick with artificial intelligence for another year so attendees could move even deeper into this complex, fascinating area of study.

“After the big success we had in 2018, we thought there was a real need and a real opportunity to stay with artificial intelligence,” said Christopher Coburn, the Chief Innovation Officer at Partners HealthCare. “There is so much more to cover.”

“The patterns of implementation are starting to become more clear, and the adoption in a lot of sectors is accelerating dramatically.  The emphasis this year will be on that real-world environment: where AI has been adopted, how it’s working to improve care, and what’s immediately on the horizon.” 

Artificial intelligence is developing extremely quickly, agreed Gregg Meyer, MD, MSc, Chief Clinical Officer.  And while the 2018 event covered a lot of ground, there will always be more to say about AI and how it is revolutionizing clinical care.

“So much has happened over a very short period of time,” he told, media partner for the event.  “Anyone who attended last year’s event would agree that the past 12 months have been transformative. So many of the things we predicted last year have already come to pass.”

Christopher Coburn, Chief Innovation Officer, Partners HealthCare
Christopher Coburn, Chief Innovation Officer, Partners HealthCare Source: Partners HealthCare

“Last year was about sharing great ideas and wonderful theories, and this year is going to be about the practical examples of how to use those ideas for patient care.” 

“Sharing those use cases and successes is going to be very exciting, but I think it’s made even better by the fact that this event is clearly charting the trajectory of artificial intelligence in healthcare.”

Artificial intelligence is no longer something exclusively mentioned when predicting the future, added Coburn.  The WMIF is dramatically condensing its timelines, even for the visionary showcase known as the Disruptive Dozen.

“Typically, our Disruptive Dozen showcase looks at what’s coming in the next decade,” he said.  “This year, we’re looking at what’s going to overhaul healthcare in the next 12 months.  That’s how quickly AI is moving.”

“We’re looking forward to some very detailed, in-depth discussions about what the timelines will look like, who the actors will be, what the challenges are, and what we’re expecting to change in the way providers deliver care and patients receive it.”

One of the most popular sessions of the conference, the rapid-fire First Look presentations by early-stage researchers, is also making a comeback.  The event will allow attendees – and potential development partners – to get a glimpse of what is just over the horizon.

Partners is building on the enthusiasm by adding two more innovation showcases, the first for recipients of the Partners Innovation Discovery grants.

“These are grants that have gone to our top faculty from around Partners to help them develop new AI technology,” Coburn explained.  “These are a dozen senior faculty – surgeons, psychiatrists, primary care providers, cardiologists – who will be talking about the technology they’ve developed to address a specific need in their area of focus.”

The second new event will feature start-up companies presenting their wares.

“We are very aware that artificial intelligence is more than simply an academic exercise,” said Coburn.  “It’s really happening, and start-ups are playing an incredibly important role in bringing new tools and options to market.” 

“We’ll have ten companies from around the US presenting in ten minute slots about their technologies and their approaches.”

Another highlight session adds more than a little bit of sci-fi back into the mix. 

In 1984, The Star asked author Isaac Asimov to predict what would be happening in the world in 2019.  The publication chose 35 years as the timeframe in tribute to the number of years between 1949, when George Orwell wrote 1984, and the titular year of his dystopian book.

Asimov correctly foresaw the continued progress of “computerization” and automation, predicted more and more robots would make their way into the home environment, and cautioned that education would need to change significantly in order to keep up with an artificially intelligent society.

“We decided to take that same aperture to convene some of the most insightful, resourceful, and passionate clinicians from our faculty, as well as visionary CEOs, and hypothesize about what medicine will look like in 2054,” Coburn said. 

“Imagining Medicine in 2054” will combine academic and industry perspectives to hypothesize about what to expect in the not-too-distant future.

“It could be a positive vision for the future; it could not,” said Coburn.  “But whatever the theme and the direction, it’s going to be very intriguing to see what these predictions will be.”

Coburn encourages clinicians, technologists, investors, data scientists, start-ups, and anyone else with an interest in staying ahead of the AI curve to attend the event.  

The agenda is heavily weighted towards natural, in-depth conversation, not PowerPoint presentations, and there are numerous opportunities to network with leading experts in the field.

“Some very in-depth collaborations had their genesis at last year’s conference, and we are looking forward to more of that,” he observed. 

“Our objective is to enable connections that wouldn’t otherwise happen.  We’re thrilled when our Harvard faculty and attendees have those conversations, and we’re thrilled when other attendees spark collaborations that might not have happened in other circumstances.”

The World Medical Innovation Forum will take place in Boston on April 8-10, 2019.

“We set a very high bar for ourselves, and we want our attendees to get as much as possible out of the time they spend with us,” Coburn said. 

“WMIF was a phenomenal success last year, and I am certain we will have another incredibly valuable and insightful event in April.” 


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