Unity Health Toronto is collaborating with Signal 1, a company led by Canadian entrepreneur Tomi Poutanen, to improve patient outcomes and transform healthcare using artificial intelligence (AI).

AI solutions developed at Unity Health have emerged from a unique model that brings together healthcare providers and data scientists to design, develop and implement data-driven AI solutions in a clinical setting. Signal 1 will build on and commercialize the AI systems already in use at St. Michael’s Hospital, which are reducing mortality among high-risk patients and improving patient care.

 “Unity Health has quickly established itself as a national leader in applied artificial intelligence in the hospital setting,” said Dr. Muhammad Mamdani, Vice President of Data Science and Advanced Analytics at Unity Health Toronto. “While we’ve developed a number of AI solutions that are showing considerable patient benefit, our next step is to deploy these into other hospitals so that patients all over Canada and around the world can benefit from these technologies. This is where the collaboration with Signal 1 comes into play.” 

Signal 1 also has a strategic collaboration with TD Bank Group (TD) and its world-leading applied AI division, Layer 6. Tomi Poutanen, a co-founder of Layer 6, will serve as the CEO of Signal 1.

Signal 1’s agreement with TD will enable the venture to leverage the award-winning AI technology platform that has been developed by TD’s Layer 6 team. Poutanen will continue to advise TD’s AI strategy and talent recruitment efforts as the bank further develops its market-leading AI capabilities.  

“While the potential for AI to transform healthcare is enormous, progress to date has been limited to a few select places, like St. Michael’s Hospital.  By combining St. Michael’s clinically validated and deployed AI applications with the power of Layer 6’s enterprise-grade AI platform, Signal 1 is positioned to be the company that responsibly deploys clinical AI, at scale,” said Poutanen.

The launch comes as healthcare providers face unprecedented pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic. Healthcare decisions are highly data- and information driven, and AI can dramatically improve the way data is processed and guide providers and institutions in achieving the best possible health outcomes for patients. Unity Health has already developed multiple AI applications that are changing how the hospital network cares for patients and improving care outcomes.

One of the solutions Signal 1 will work to commercialize is CHARTWatch, an AI tool developed at St. Michael’s during the COVID-19 pandemic. The tool serves as an early warning system for doctors and nurses caring for internal medicine patients, and preliminary data show the tool has led to a significant drop in mortality among high risk patients. Signal 1 teams are working to scale and commercialize the technology so it can be used to improve patient outcomes beyond Unity Health’s walls.

For this and all other projects, strong protections and constraints are in place around data and access to information to preserve security and patient privacy.  

“Signal 1 has skill sets that will enable even better algorithms with improved accuracy, and that’s going to benefit patients,” said Dr. Mamdani. “Our rich clinical data and collaborative clinical environment will drive development of highly effective AI solutions with Signal 1 and there are constraints and guardrails in place around data and access to preserve security and privacy for patients.”

Conversations around the potential of AI and how influential it could be in health care started many years ago at St. Michael’s. Through the early support of St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation’s visionary donors and volunteers, and their foresight about the enormous opportunity that existed in this space, Unity Health became the only hospital network in Canada with a dedicated applied AI team. Donors have continued to invest in the talent, infrastructure as well as the research and development of AI solutions.

“Unity Health’s leadership in this space is fueled by our legion of donors who were on the ground floor, supporting visionary AI inventions all with the intent of reinventing the patient experience by improving diagnoses, making medicine more precise and tailoring treatments for better patient outcomes,” says Lili Litwin, President, St. Michael’s Foundation.

AI is now embedded in Unity Health’s strategic priority to revolutionize care through digital transformation. It is also one of the driving forces of HUMANCARE – the St. Michael’s Foundation’s $1-billion movement to reinvent Canada’s patient care experience.

This is a historic moment for Unity Health, and for healthcare in Canada. This collaboration with Signal 1 will strengthen Unity Health’s work in AI, and accelerate our pursuit of the best care experiences.

For more information about the Unity Health and Signal 1 collaboration, read our FAQs for patients and families.

By: Robyn Cox and Hayley Mick