A World Health Organisation (WHO) report has cautioned against overestimating the benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) for health at the expense of core investments and strategies to achieve universal health coverage.
The new guidance, Ethics & Governance of Artificial Intelligence for Health, is the result of two years of consultations held by a panel of international experts appointed by WHO.
It argues that ethics and human rights must be put at the heart of AI’s design, deployment, and use if the technology is to improve the delivery of healthcare worldwide.
Although there are many opportunities for AI, the report points out associated challenges and risks, including unethical collection and use of health data, biases encoded in algorithms, and risks to patient safety, cybersecurity, and the environment.
It argues that the unregulated use of AI could subordinate the rights and interests of patients and communities to the powerful commercial interests of technology companies or the interests of governments in surveillance and social control.
The guidance provides six consensus principles to ensure AI works to the public benefit of all countries. It also includes recommendations to ensure the governance of AI for health maximises the promise of the technology and holds stakeholders accountable.
WHY IT MATTERS
AI has the potential to improve the speed and accuracy of diagnosis and screening for diseases, assist with clinical care, strengthen health research and drug development, and support diverse public health interventions, such as disease surveillance, outbreak response, and health systems management.
It can also empower patients to take greater control of their own health care and bridge gaps in access to health services.
However, the WHO guidance says that AI systems must be carefully designed to reflect the diversity of socio-economic and healthcare settings and be accompanied by training in digital skills, community engagement and awareness-raising.
THE LARGER CONTEXT
Earlier this year, European health innovation network, EIT Health launched an AI report from its Think Tank, urging healthcare providers to invest more in AI and tech post-pandemic.
Meanwhile the UK government recently announced a share of £36 million to test 38 ‘state-of-the-art’ AI projects aimed at helping the NHS transform the quality of care and speed of diagnoses for conditions such as lung cancer.
The funding is part of the NHS AI Lab’s £140 million AI in Health and Care Award, which backs programmes to support the UK in becoming a robust setting for the development and deployment of AI technologies.
ON THE RECORD
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said: “Like all new technology, AI holds enormous potential for improving the health of millions of people around the world, but like all technology it can also be misused and cause harm. This important new report provides a valuable guide for countries on how to maximise the benefits of AI, while minimising its risks and avoiding its pitfalls.”