Artificial intelligence (AI) is already starting to transform healthcare and Australia must act now to set our own path through this new landscape. That is the conclusion of a report, ‘Artificial Intelligence in Health: Exploring the Opportunities and Challenges’, published today by the Academy, which calls for a national conversation on the future role of artificial intelligence in health.
‘There is a real opportunity for AI technologies to improve healthcare and we are already seeing other countries actively pursuing these prospects. Australia needs to initiate a national conversation to agree on where we should use AI in health, not simply where we can use it. Decisions now will determine the pathway for harnessing the benefits as part of an ethical, equitable and responsible future for AI development and implementation in health.
‘AI-driven technologies could be a powerful tool in addressing the many challenges facing health systems the world over, but as with any new technology, there are both opportunities and challenges. The successful use of AI in health will depend on our readiness as a nation to develop and use it. The health sector must consult and plan to assess the aspirations and concerns related to these technologies. We need a national conversation involving patients, the public, healthcare professionals, researchers, industry, health systems and governments.’
Professor Ingrid Scheffer AO FRS FAA PresAHMS
President, Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences
The Academy’s report (produced following a roundtable in 2019) reveals the complexity of this emerging landscape – where AI often presents a double-edged sword. For instance, while some uses of AI might deliver efficiencies that lower the costs of care, others could increase costs due to the extra demands on resources and infrastructure. Similarly, AI technologies have the potential to empower patients, offering greater choice and access to information about their health. However, for some, this may bring unwanted complexity and an unwelcome awareness of their future health, leading to anxiety or other mental health problems.
Artificial intelligence tools, i.e. computer technologies that perform tasks that would otherwise require human cognition, could help deliver more efficient and effective healthcare. The COVID-19 pandemic has for example demonstrated the potential for AI to enhance infectious disease tracking, support diagnosis and facilitate drug discovery and development.
‘Around the world the level of interest and investment in AI in healthcare is enormous. Australia has the opportunity to learn from those nations that have moved early, but we still need to move quickly. These technologies are already becoming available.
‘This emerging world in which AI is part of routine healthcare delivery is one where doctors and patients need to be trained to safely and effectively use the technology. We have seen this play out in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, where AI is helping with diagnosis, disease surveillance and drug development. This demands preparation in Australia to invest in building the workforce we need to take advantage of what is to come.’
Professor Enrico Coiera FAHMS
Director of the Centre for Health Informatics, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, Macquarie University
The report concludes that for Australia to best harness the opportunities that arise from AI-driven technologies in health, we need to:
- Build capacity and expertise in the health workforce so that they can make best use of AI technologies, including developing digital skills among health professionals.
- Build technical and workforce capacity to generate, store and analyse the large volumes of high-quality data that are required to drive the implementation of AI in the health sector.
- Invest in a technical workforce that is able to drive the AI development of Australia and avoid losing talent overseas to international markets such as the Silicon Valley.
- Foster health-related academic AI research in Australia to cultivate an innovative research landscape beyond only the private sector.
- Strategically invest in AI research for health purposes by creating agile funding structures that facilitate cross-disciplinary research between AI and the health sector and avoid a scenario in which this kind of research falls into the gaps between funding agencies.
- Further enhance the Australian translational context to enable a productive health-related AI sector.
- Facilitate patient and public involvement to help inform responsible development and implementation of AI in the health sector.
The report was informed by a roundtable meeting in 2019, which convened an interdisciplinary group of 34 Fellows, Associate Members and external experts from health and medical science, artificial intelligence and data science, government and industry.
The report and the media release can be downloaded below.