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Dr. Sonny Kohli: AI can help free up time for doctors—and CPAs

For the award winning physician, AI can be a boon—not only in medicine, but also in accounting. Here’s how.

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Interview with Sonny Kohli“Accountants have a treasure trove of information that goes untapped, because they’re caught up in daily tasks,” says Dr. Sonny Kohli (CPA Canada) 

If the prospect of embracing AI induces fear in some professionals, Dr. Sonny Kohli is not one of them. As a practising physician in internal medicine and critical care at Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital and a faculty member at SingularityU Canada, he is on an important mission: to improve health care the world over. And he calls on space-age and digital technology to help him in his quest. 

In 2010, while volunteering in post-earthquake Haiti, Kohli experienced first-hand the perils of inadequate health care some of the world’s most marginalized peoples face. This confirmed his conviction that technology could be harnessed to improve care for underserviced people, particularly in cases where on-site care was lacking. Later, he co-founded a company called Cloud DX to create a wearable “digital doctor” called Vitaliti, which can take vital signs and make routine diagnoses in seconds. Cloud DX won an award at the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE competition in 2017. 

At the second set of round tables for CPA Canada Foresight: Reimagining the Profession, Oct. 15 to 17, 2018 in Toronto, Kohli demonstrated how Vitaliti works. Afterward, he sat down with CPA Canada to talk about how some of the concepts he espouses could be adapted to the accounting profession.

CPA Canada: Could you tell us more about the XPRIZE? 
Sonny Kohli: XPRIZE is a California-based non-profit organization whose mandate is to incentivize humankind to solve some of its greatest challenges through large prize competitions. The Tricorder competition was one of them. Qualcomm agreed to be the sponsor, and it invested tens of millions of dollars into prizes and into running the competition. There was also an XPRIZE for cleaning the ocean, another for curing Alzheimer’s, and so on.

Imagine if a lot of the routine work was automated. Then you could free up this professional’s mind—and bring all those years of exquisite accounting experience into play.

CPA Canada: Cloud DX received support from a profit-making subsidiary of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Could you tell us more about it?
SK: The CMA found that even though they serve 100,000 physicians in Canada, they were not really promoting innovation. When you go to the average walk-in clinic in Ontario, it still looks the same as it did 20 years ago. You go wait at the desk, get shown into a room and everything is done on paper. And there are so many opportunities to improve the level of care and efficiency. 

So the CMA said, “We need to do something about this.” They ended up creating a CMA subsidiary called Joule, whose mandate is to enable and empower physicians in Canada to embrace innovation. Joule supports innovation either by creating grants for physicians who want to pursue an idea, or by endorsing companies, as it did with Cloud DX. 

CPA Canada: Has there been a lot of take up in the medical community?
I am necessarily biased, but for us, Joule has been indispensable. Since it is endorsed by the CMA, it can connect us with provincial ministers of health and allow us to extend our reach across Canada in a way that I think other professional organizations could replicate. I think CPAs in Canada could also learn from this.

CPA Canada: Is it true the digital doctor will be commercialized in a year?
Actually, we already we have a commercialized version of our technology—it’s a connected health kit that allows you take your vital signs at home and send the information to the cloud via a tablet. You can buy the system online. Many hospitals in the Toronto area are using this technology to care for some of their sickest patients.

CPA Canada:  In your presentation, you said the digital doctor would free up time for physicians to offer more bedside care. 
SK:  Yes, that’s right. Family doctors are so bogged down with the day-to-day that they can’t sit down and talk with you about preventive health strategies. But imagine if their day-to-day diagnoses were all taken care of.  Then you would have time to talk about things you normally don’t talk about—for example, how your marital issues might be causing you to have maladaptive behaviours. Doctors are well-equipped to talk about these things, but they don’t have the time.

CPA Canada:  Do you think AI could also be used in a similar way in the accounting profession?
  Yes, definitely. Accountants have a treasure trove of information that goes untapped, because they’re caught up in daily tasks. My accountant, for example, is so focused on the books and financial statements that we never get to talk about long-term strategy. But I would like to. Imagine if a lot of the routine work was automated. Then you could free up this professional’s mind—and bring all those years of exquisite accounting experience into play.


How do you think AI and other drivers of change might affect the future of accounting? Make your voice heard by joining the online forum for CPA Canada Foresight: Reimagining the Profession.