AI cats could be the future of rural medicine

November 28, 2023 BY

Imaginative: Dr Brad Hodge said to adopt new tech in rural healthcare, a holistic and collaborative approach is needed. Photo: SUPPLIED

A WORKSHOP held by La Trobe University’s Rural Health School brought community members and students together to discuss solutions to rural health challenges recently.

Participants were presented with potential technological solutions including a community robot to supplement interpersonal interaction, and a medical support and advice service using artificial intelligence.

Dr Brad Hodge runs the innovation lab in the La Trobe Rural Health School and said the aim of the workshop was to understand how people might relate to new technologies in healthcare.

“The thing that came through really clearly was the importance of realising that if you want any of these solutions to work, that Grandma betty up the road needed to actually like it, and she needed to trust it,” Dr Hodge said.

One of the solutions the cohort came up with was a robotic cat that people could pat and talk to about what was happening in their local community.

“Each of the different solutions had this strong focus of an animal in it, to make it comfortable which is not what we were expecting,” he said.

According to Dr Hodge some technologies that could improve rural health outcomes can be difficult to implement.

“If we’re looking at improving rural health, it has to be trustworthy and it has to be likeable,” he said.

Other barriers to bringing some of these solutions to rural areas are connectivity and commercial viability.

“Connectivity is a big issue, the technology will advance it just depends, if something is commercially viable then it becomes available, but it also becomes available to the person who can pay,” Dr Hodge said.

“There’s that whole equity issue around all that for rural communities.”

Discussions undertaken at the workshop could be used to inform further research.

“If you just put together a bunch of academics they ask certain questions, and they answer certain questions, and if you just put together someone who’s in the community it’s the same,” Dr Hodge said.

“But jeez when you put together people with diverse perspectives around a problem that they all care about, then you actually come up with these really interesting outcomes.”