The Academy published a roundtable report ‘Artificial Intelligence in Health: Exploring the Opportunities and Challenges’ on 4 June 2020, which called for a national conversation on the future role of artificial intelligence in health in Australia. Artificial intelligence (AI) is already starting to transform healthcare and the Academy concluded that Australia must act now to set our own path through this new landscape.

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 report explores some of the ways in which we are already seeing technologies emerge that can diagnose some eye conditions from images of the retina at least as well as doctors. Similar tools are being developed in other areas, such as for skin and breast cancer. 

Use of these tools could free up health professionals to spend more time with patients and potentially reduce stressful workloads. However, there are also challenges associated with these new technologies, including issues around validity and accountability for decision-making.

The report 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.

The report concludes that for Australia to best harness the opportunities that arise from AI-driven technologies in the health sector, 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 research, artificial intelligence and data science, government and industry. The meeting was hosted in kind by Findex. 

The full report can be downloaded below.