During AER’s event on artificial intelligence (AI) attendees broke into five roundtable discussion groups, each addressing an area of AI important to stakeholders. The group titled the healthcare revolution was to discuss the disruption AI will bring to the delivery and organisation of healthcare. For an hour, issues such as the changing nature of medicine, relationships between physicians and patients in an era of AI, and the integration of AI into healthcare policy animated discussions.
To suit the large spectrum of issues this group was to discuss, group contributors drew from a broad cross-section of society, bringing with them diversity in knowledge and experience. Contributor Maria Merce Rovira Regas, a Member of the Board at the European Institute of Women’s Health brought experience dealing with gender related issues health care. Founded in 1996, the European Institute of Women’s Health (EIWH) is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that promotes gender equity in public health, research and social policies across Europe.
Paul de Raeve the Secretary General of the European Federation of Nurses brought first-hand knowledge of future and current uses of AI in the healthcare system. Dating back to 1971, the European Federation of Nurses represents the nursing profession and its interests to the European Institutions.
Another valuable contributor was Iva Tasheva from Digital Europe. As Digital Europe’s Privacy and Security Policy Manager, Ms Tasheva oversees the EU Cybersecurity Strategy, ePrivacy Regulation, and Data Protection among other things. Robert Winroth the County Commissioner for Innovation in Västerbotten shared his expertise in the process of implementing AI in the healthcare system. The group was moderated by Tanya Znamenski a Public Health Analyst at PatientsTalk a popular blog on healthcare.
According to contributors AI will be able to allow doctors to channel more energy into personalized patient care, rather than in general diagnosis and treatment of diseases. For example, having monitors which can watch the status of a diabetic at any time will make 24/7 care a reality. Moreover, advances made in genetic testing will make the identification of specific genes in patients possible, allowing for advanced interventions. To this end, contributors stated that final users, patients must be involved in the development of personalized healthcare approaches to ensure it suits their needs as recipients.
On an interpersonal level contributors asserted that the arrival of E-Health promises to fundamentally change the relationship between physicians and patients, by democratizing health care records. Traditionally, there has been a power imbalance in healthcare between physicians and patient due to exclusive access to patient information physicians hold. As society moves towards placing all healthcare records under one universal system which gives patients access to their own records, the authority of physicians will diminish.
Similarly, the arrival of AI will also alter the relationship between physicians and other healthcare providers such as nurses. As AI continues to expand into patient management and diagnosis, the authority of physicians will be further eroded. With data inputs provided by AI healthcare providers like nurses and lab technicians who have played an important, but more secondary role will be able to perform many of the same functions as doctors.
Relatedly, the arrival of big data across healthcare fields will improve the efficiency and speed of delivery of services to patients. Having data instantly available to all physicians involved in a patient’s care will expedite communication between healthcare professionals, rendering time consuming processes like referral letters obsolete.
Although AI holds the potential to vastly improve the delivery of healthcare, contributors expressed concerns about the ability for robots exist in humans’ highly social world. For many physicians, being a doctor is about more than just the treatments of ailments; it is an intensely social relationship reliant upon trust and mutual understanding built between physician and patient. Whether robots will ever possess the ability to understand human emotions and gain the trust of patients is still an open question, according to contributors.
Another concern involves the usage of patient data as systems like E-Health are deployed. With AI in medicine hinging upon the usage of sensitive personal data contained in healthcare records, contributors claimed that getting data to the right people in a safe and secure manner will be an obstacle industry must confront.
Despite these unsettled ethical questions, contributors said society must be aware that there are also consequences for not adopting these transformative technologies. For example, preventing the deployment of CRISPR due to various concerns will create other sets of questions about whether its moral to deprive someone with a genetic disease from a potentially curative technology. Contributors said that in cases such as this field research and clinical trials are vital to ensuring the healthcare system knows cutting-edge technologies are safe before deployment.
For contributors a challenge will be creating the networks required to bring innovative ideas which already exist to the EU level for implementation and review by policy makers. Having ground-breaking technology in data analysis is useless to the public as long as society do not have the infrastructure and processes to bring it to market. According to contributors, too few of these networks presently exist making their creation a priority for Europe.
Finally, contributors claimed that one challenge for the AI industry will be achieving better gender representation in AI development. Indeed, there is the potential for disconnect if technology developed in the male dominated AI industry is intended for the healthcare industry where over half of professionals are female.
Maria Merce Rovira Regas shared her experiences participating in projects with Women’s Health aimed at fighting breast cancer. These projects compiled information from different cases of breast cancer in Europe in a publicly available database to help give better breast cancer diagnoses.
Contrary to some beliefs, Paul de Raeve, from the European Federation of Nurses stressed that nurses are supportive of the deployment of AI into the healthcare system, understanding that it will bring them closer to patients. Based on their experience they believe that AI will enable nurses to work in a more cohesive manner and provide more efficient patient care.
Robert Winroth recommended that AI implementation begin as soon as possible. He stated that to facilitate a smooth integration of AI into the healthcare system, transparent, close partnerships between various AI stakeholders, particularly the private and public sector, will have to be developed. Back home Västerbotten has devoted signficiant time, energy, and resources to this issue, stressing that it is a structural process which requires buy in from all parties.
To help gain public acceptance for AI technologies related to healthcare and to keep constituents informed, participants to the discussion suggested that regions raise awareness around the projects they are working on.
Paul de Raeve stated that a paradigm shift is required in the approach to European projects. For the European Federation of Nurses, too many European projects have a short lifespan with conclusions being ineffectively implemented. Increasing the sustainability of European projects must therefore be an immediate priority.
Finally, Maria Merce Rovira Regas strongly encouraged tech companies to make a more concerted to diversify their workplaces by making gender and racial equality a priority.