CBU Research Probes Healthcare Using Artificial Intelligence

CBU researchers across disciplines are getting support from Research Nova Scotia to explore ways to improve healthcare in Nova Scotia. Dr. Enayat Rajabi, Assistant Professor in the Shannon School of Business, will lead a research team as they unpack some of the complexities of healthcare with machine learning. With a Health Investigator Grant of nearly $100,000, they will examine the experiences of patients in Nova Scotia hospitals using data analytics. It might be described as coding and number crunching, but Dr. Rajabi says this application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the potential to contribute to improved hospital bed utilization and patient flow through stages of care.

“Healthcare systems must be able to facilitate the effective flow of patients through several care areas,” explains Dr. Rajabi. “One of the biggest challenges in this regard is the management of Alternate Level of Care (ALC) patients, which refers to hospitalized patients who are ready to be discharged to non-acute care, such as long-term care (LTC) facilities, nursing homes or even their own homes.” He hopes to provide a model that allows for a proactive approach to ALC, freeing hospital beds to address acute medical care.

When asked how he came to recognize the value in this research, Dr. Rajabi described his connection with researchers and professors in the area of artificial intelligence locally and abroad.

“It all began with a conversation and turned into something we could take from the desktop to the frontlines of health care,” he explains. “As researchers and healthcare consumers, that’s been a great motivator for the research team.” Dr. Rajabi credits his research partners for their important role in the research design and next steps, namely Dr. Majid Taghavi from Saint Mary’s University and Dr. Peter Vanberkel from Dalhousie University, who he describes as crucial to the project’s success.

The research aims to identify the most significant clinical and patient characteristics associated with patients requiring ALC using emerging AI models. “In particular, we want to leverage neural network-based machine learning algorithms to create highly accurate prediction models,” says Dr. Rajabi.

Recognizing that the concept of machine learning may need some translation to fit into the concept of healthcare, Dr. Rajabi reached out to Dr. Corrine McIsaac, Associate Professor in CBU’s School of Nursing for assistance. Describing her as a mentor, Dr. Rajabi says he is grateful she accepted this chance to work together.

“Dr. McIsaac has years of experience studying healthcare systems as a researcher, healthcare practitioner and educator and is a valued co-investigator on this research,” says Dr. Rajabi. “She is connected to a large network of colleagues and offers hands-on knowledge when it comes to ALC patients.” Together, with support from Research Nova Scotia’s Health Investigator Grant and Nova Scotia hospitals, the research team will use their collective expertise and engage healthcare networks province-wide.

Dr. Tanya Brann-Barrett, Associate Vice-President, Academic and Research, says this work is a shining example of the benefits of collaboration in research. “We are excited to see Dr. Rajabi engaging fellow researchers on campus, at other institutions and within the healthcare system to contribute to healthcare in Nova Scotia,” says Dr. Brann-Barrett. “This cooperative effort is building on CBU’s strength for establishing effective research networks.”

The project is expected to be completed by 2024 and the results will be shared with healthcare practitioners, managers and policymakers. Congratulations to Dr. Rajabi and the entire research team on this important work!