Artificial intelligence (AI) has enormous potential to improve patient outcomes and reduce their variability, making health systems more efficient. But we must take an ethical approach to ensure sustainable implementation and public trust.
As leaders in the medical technology sector, we are playing our part in ensuring that our industry develops advanced data-driven technologies in the interest of patients. For us, this is not new: it is in line with our approach to innovation. We begin from an ethical perspective, seeking to improve the lives of people who benefit from the medical technologies we develop.
This is a crucial moment in the history of AI in healthcare. Policymakers are looking closely at how to maximise the positive impact of computational science in the age of data while safeguarding privacy and security.
We have set out our thinking in two key documents: a paper on Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence in healthcare, in response to the Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI of the European Commission High-Level Expert Group on AI (HLEG AI), and a recently-published MedTech Europe position paper on AI in medtech, addressing the Policy and Investment recommendations of the HLEG AI. These documents set the foundation for our contribution to the upcoming communication of the European Commission on artificial intelligence.
Let’s remind ourselves why this is worth getting right. AI can improve the speed and accuracy of diagnostics and medical imaging; support real-time monitoring and preventative healthcare – intercepting disease in very early stages, sometimes even before it happens. It can also bring a new approach to the delivery of care, optimising the use of healthcare resources, including health professionals’ time; supporting doctors to be at their best and treat patients in better ways than ever before; and empowering patients to manage their well-being.
But there is much to do to ensure the potential of AI is realised and it is implemented in an ethical and trustworthy manner.Therefore, we have identified key barriers and opportunities for AI in healthcare. Chief among these is access to data – the raw material that will fuel the future and shape effective, fair and ethical AI. Access to high quality data on which to develop representative algorithms is crucial to all healthcare stakeholders: hospitals and innovative medtech companies, healthcare professionals, patients and citizens in general.
Policymakers can also accelerate Europe’s progress in this high-value field by ensuring the wider healthcare system is ready for the revolution we see on the horizon. We cannot expect a 20th century healthcare system to seamlessly adopt 21st century technology. This includes preparing our healthcare workforce to have the skills to master this technology as they already do with many others, and equally investing in training and digital literacy for citizens and patients, and making those an integral part of the policy agenda.
If we get this right, the benefits will be significant. By putting ethics at the heart of policies on AI and medtech, Europe can be a world leader in the future of healthcare. Healthcare is founded on very strong bioethical principles, upon which medical care should aim to deliver good, avoid harm, empower people and make sure no one is left behind. This should be no different when it comes to AI.
Partnership will be at the heart of charting the way forward and we will be active contributors to the necessary policy and legislative conversations that lie ahead. Together, policy makers, health stakeholders, patients and industry, we must craft a strong governance framework, building on existing regulation and taking account of the specific needs of the healthcare sector while safeguarding the patient interest. The application of AI in medtech should be regulated on the basis of risk assessment and management, underpinned by strong ethical standards. We look forward to the Commission’s European approach to Artificial Intelligence and Robotics.