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WHO publishes first guidance on AI in healthcare

Tuesday June 29th 2021

The potential benefits of artificial intelligence for medicine should not be exaggerated, according to new global guidance.

The World Health Organisation guidance says there is enormous potential for AI - but there should be caution against overestimating its benefits, particularly when it occurs at the expense of core investments and strategies needed for universal health coverage.

The report, Ethics and governance of artificial intelligence for health, also warns that opportunities are linked to challenges and risks, including unethical collection and use of health data; biases encoded in algorithms, and risks of AI to patient safety, cybersecurity, and the environment.

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “Like all new technology, artificial intelligence 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.”

The report says while private and public sector investment in the development and deployment of AI is critical, patient and community interests could be sacrificed at the expense of the powerful commercial interests of technology companies or the interests of governments in surveillance and social control if its use is unregulated.

It also points out that systems that primarily focus on data collected from individuals in high-income countries may not perform well for those in low- and middle-income settings.

WHO says AI systems should be carefully designed to reflect the diversity of socio-economic and health-care settings and be complemented by training in digital skills, community engagement and awareness-raising.

Governments, providers, and designers must work together to address ethics and human rights concerns at every stage of an AI technology’s design, development, and deployment, it adds.

The report comprises six principles as the basis for AI regulation and governance. The first ensuring people remain in control of health-care systems and medical decisions. Privacy and confidentiality should be protected, and patients must give valid informed consent through appropriate legal frameworks for data protection.

It also calls for the designers of AI technologies to satisfy regulatory requirements for safety, accuracy and efficacy for well-defined use cases or indications, and to make sure there are transparency, explainability and intelligibility.

WHO says there must be responsibility and accountability – stakeholders must ensure they are used appropriately and by trained people, while effective mechanisms should be available for questioning and for redress.

The fifth principle is for ensuring inclusiveness, requiring AI is designed to encourage the widest possible equitable use and access, and equity, and the sixth principle is requiring designers, developers and users to assess AI applications to determine whether or AI responds adequately and appropriately to expectations and requirements.

WHO says its newly published report will guide its work to ensure that AI reaches its full potential in healthcare and public health and will be universally beneficial.

Tags: World Health

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