In recent years, artificial intelligence (AI) has emerged as a transformative technology in the field of healthcare. With the potential to revolutionize predictive and diagnostic outcomes, to impact patient care and treatment, AI holds great promise for improving medical outcomes and supporting a globally short staffed system.
However, the road to achieving precision in AI solutions for healthcare is not without its challenges. We outline 5 hurdles faced in harnessing the full potential of AI in healthcare and discuss the ongoing efforts to address them.
The Data Dilemma:
One of the key challenges in developing accurate AI solutions for healthcare lies with data – both the understanding and availability of data, more precisely, diverse data. Diversity here covers a wide range of interpretations from diversity in modality, to geographies, medical areas, in statistical representation for those choosing the small data route.
The sector faces hurdles in data access , sharing, and standardization, perpetuated by the absence of privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs), fragmented data systems, and limited knowledge around data annotation hinder the creation of comprehensive and diverse datasets, which are essential for training robust AI models.
While AI solutions in healthcare strive for precision, cost and technological hurdles present challenges. However, exploring recent innovative approaches like Language Models (LLMs) are one of ways ahead, especially close on the heels of Epic announcing a partnership with Microsoft, only so far as the benefits outweigh the risks. But here as well, the suggestion is to first test them in non-clinical settings such as administrative data flows around billing, where code and automations are verifiable.
Addressing the ‘Data Dilemma’ is essential to unlock the full potential of AI in healthcare. By tackling challenges related to data availability, annotation, privacy, and bias, we can pave the way for more accurate, effective, and responsible AI solutions that truly benefit patients and healthcare providers.
Bias and Generalization:
Still on the topic of data, AI algorithms and therefore output, has the potential to be biased based on two key situations at the outset:
- Algorithms are trained on limited datasets. This can perpetuate biases and fail to generalize well across diverse populations. Healthcare AI systems must account for the diversity of patients, including factors such as age, gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic background. Even when addressing a single country, these models must take into account heterogeneity of population. The pulse Oximeters, a rage during Covid, stirred quite the controversy with potential biased readings based on skin pigmentation.
- AI algorithms can be biased if the data used to train them is biased. This could lead to inaccurate diagnoses or inappropriate treatment recommendations, particularly for patients from marginalized groups. Therefore, there remains a perpetual need to understand and diversify the data feeding the AI output.
Such failures may lead to disparities in diagnosis and treatment recommendations, compromising patient care. And opening up Pandora’s box on the question of liability when using AI as a support mechanism.
Integration and Interoperability:
Integrating AI solutions into existing healthcare systems presents another significant challenge. Healthcare organizations often operate on a complex network of electronic health record (EHR) systems, each with its own data formats and standards. Ensuring seamless interoperability between AI systems and EHRs is essential for effective data exchange and utilization. However, achieving this integration requires collaborative efforts among healthcare providers, technology vendors, and regulatory bodies. There are several US-based companies working towards building API and platform functions for a plug-in one-size-fits-all interoperability solution however healthcare is traditionally slow and uptake of such solutions is lagging.
FHIR is the most commonly used HL7 specification for interoperability standard determining the exchange of information within the healthcare ecosystem however, as it evolves, multiple versions have been created and currently the challenge lies in ensuring all healthcare players are at the same point in the interoperability curve with adequate support required from EPIC, Cerner and similar players to overcome this challenge.
Ethical and Regulatory Considerations:
As AI becomes more integrated into healthcare, ethical and regulatory considerations become paramount. Transparency, explainability, and accountability are crucial in building trust between AI systems and healthcare professionals. Developing ethical frameworks and guidelines that govern the use of AI in healthcare is necessary to ensure patient safety, protect privacy, and prevent misuse of sensitive medical data. Striking the right balance between innovation and ethical responsibility is key to advancing the road to precision in healthcare AI.
There are several laws presiding over the ethics of data exchange, especially secondary use of healthcare data and use of AI in systems (and we’ll delve into those in a subsequent article)
There is a need to develop implementation strategies across healthcare organisations to address challenges to AI-specific capacity building. Laws and policies are needed to regulate the design and execution of effective AI implementation strategies. This required investing time and resources in implementation processes, with collaboration across healthcare, county councils, and industry partnerships.
Addressing the challenges on the road to precision in healthcare AI requires collaboration among various stakeholders. Healthcare providers, researchers, technology companies, regulatory bodies, and policymakers need to work together to create an environment conducive to data sharing, innovation, and responsible deployment of AI solutions. Encouraging interdisciplinary collaborations and fostering partnerships can accelerate progress and help overcome barriers more effectively.
The road to precision in AI solutions for healthcare is filled with challenges, but it is also paved with immense opportunities. By addressing the data dilemma, tackling bias and generalization issues, promoting integration and interoperability, considering ethical and regulatory implications, and fostering collaboration, we can overcome these obstacles. Achieving precision in healthcare AI will not only improve diagnostic accuracy, treatment outcomes, and patient care, but also pave the way for personalized medicine and a more efficient healthcare system overall. As we continue to navigate this road, let us remain committed to harnessing the full potential of AI while prioritizing patient welfare and the advancement of healthcare as a whole.