From triaging patients to the proper treatment to interpreting scans, or optimising treatment pathways, artificial intelligence (AI) can play a pivotal role in supporting the health workforce in their work in cardiovascular disease. However, to fully grasp the potential of AI for patients, we need to start by making high-quality curated health data available.
The potential of AI in the Cardiovascular space
The European Heart Network (EHN) is a Brussels-based alliance of foundations and associations dedicated to preventing cardiovascular diseases (CVD), supporting patients, representing patient interests and funding research throughout Europe. It has 28 members in 24 European countries. At the EHN, we find that novel digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), can support alleviating many pressures related to managing cardiovascular diseases, not only for the patients but also for the healthcare system and healthcare workforce. In the field of cardiology, we see positive AI use cases in imaging, automated detection (i.e. in electrocardiograms) or better risk assessment in patient monitoring situations. Additionally, AI and big data hold great potential for research in healthcare delivery (like detecting various patterns in healthcare) and, reducing inequalities, developing innovative medicines and medical technologies.
Health data is presently difficult to find and access, next to not being interoperable and, therefore, hardly reusable. As such, we need to set up a regulatory framework for data management.
Birgit Beger , CEO, European Heart Network (EHN)
Taking the next step towards the implementation of AI in healthcare
In my view, for AI to flourish in healthcare, we first need to look at what is currently holding it back. And here, we come to the topic of data, which will always stand as the basis of AI. Health data is presently difficult to find and access, next to not being interoperable and, therefore, hardly reusable. As such, we need to set up a regulatory framework for data management. The European Heart Network welcomes the European Health Data Space. And yet, what is of value to people and patients can only be defined with them in a spirit of co-creation. Therefore, we need to create the right ecosystem together.
Making health data available for AI
Patients are prepared to share their data for improved care and better access to novel technologies, but the FAIR (Findability, Accessibility, Interoperability, and Reuse of digital assets) infrastructure is not in place yet. It will require a full transformation of the healthcare system to get the pieces into place. In addition, when using health data for AI algorithms, strong ethical considerations must be in place, demanding a balanced regulatory approach weighing digital innovations against protecting personal data.
To support data availability, the European Heart Network has partnered with 13 other organisations in the AIDAVA (AI-powered Data Curation & Publishing Virtual Assistant) project, funded under Horizon Europe. The project aims to develop an AI system for the FAIR-ification and publication of health data for AI systems.
A needed stakeholder dialogue on the next legislative framework for AI
During the stakeholder event “AI in medical technologies – Improving healthcare systems and patient outcomes”, organised by MedTech Europe, which I had the pleasure of moderating on 10 October 2022, some other vital hurdles were mentioned on the way to implementation of AI in healthcare. Everyone agreed that while all future digital solutions must be designed as intuitive as possible, there is a dire need for improved digital literacy of healthcare professionals and citizens. Another impeding factor stands in the face of the need to transform healthcare systems financing to ensure targeted reimbursement for new technologies, which have proven beneficial by evidence.
Furthermore, the European Commission acknowledged their openness to improve the proposed AI Act to ensure legal certainty for all stakeholders, stimulate innovation and better patient outcomes, and seamless integration with existing sectoral legislation.
In essence, I believe that tackling all these factors will pave the way to to bring more innovation to patients and healthcare professionals by smaller and larger companies and set the ground for patients to embrace this transformation.