My colleagues at NHSX are beginning to uncover the significant opportunities that artificial intelligence (AI) offers to keep people healthy, improve care and save lives. In the area of diagnostics alone, we see that skills are developing in areas such as fast image recognition, symptom checking and risk stratification. For example, AI could help personalize health checkups and treatments for cancer, eye diseases, and a number of other diseases. In addition, not only patients, but also clinicians can benefit from it so that they can make the most of their specialist knowledge, inform their decisions and save time.
Britain is not alone, Europe is also looking closely at how this rapidly developing area can change people’s lives, especially in the area of health care.
Similarities between the EU and UK approach to AI
In Europe, the goal is to combine technological and industrial strengths with first-class digital infrastructure and a regulatory framework in order to become the world leader in data management. To take advantage of these opportunities, the European Commission is working to develop an ecosystem of excellence that supports the rapid and ethical development of AI in Europe, from research and innovation to incentives to adopt solutions, including from SMEs. In its upcoming AI White Paper, the Commission is likely to highlight the health benefits for citizens through more accurate diagnosis and prevention of disease and the generation of new medicines. as well as opportunities for companies to develop a new generation of health products and services.
The UK’s interests match – the “AI and data mission” was announced this year as one of the major challenges of the UK government’s industrial strategy. The aim is to put the UK at the forefront of AI and data use in screening and treatment and to claim that “better use of AI and data within 15 years could result in more than 50,000 each year People diagnose their cancers early as a late stage. This would mean that, compared to today, around 20,000 fewer people die within 5 years of their diagnosis. “
The NHS has also recognized that AI can help with the next round of breakthrough medical breakthroughs. We have already seen algorithms with which tens of thousands of active ingredients can be compared in a few weeks instead of years. There are now practical ways to use AI and data to accelerate early-stage medical research and improve disease prevention and treatment. For example, a pilot project is underway at the East Midlands Radiology Consortium to test data-driven tools that complement the front-line expert opinion of mammography readers. The study is designed to help radiologists make one of the most important decisions they make – whether to call a patient back.
In addition to the opportunities, both the UK and the EU have recognized that using AI solutions poses a number of ethical and regulatory challenges, especially when decisions made can have a significant impact on the lives and health of patients. In order to maintain public trust, it is important to develop clear standards and framework conditions in addition to technological developments.
What’s next in 2020?
Britain has now officially left the EU. During the Brexit implementation period, which will last until the end of 2020, the UK will comply with EU law and will therefore continue to work with the EU in the same way as before. The EU and the UK will shortly begin negotiations on their future relationship, which will enter into force in January 2021. Regardless of the outcome, there will still be common opportunities and problems that know no boundaries. AI is certainly one of them.
An immediate opportunity to collaborate is on the pressing and important issue of providing the exciting benefits of AI in an ethical and trustworthy setting. We believe that the European Commission’s White Paper on AI will examine possible AI regulation. It will most likely propose a differentiated risk-based approach on two factors: sector and use of the AI application. Healthcare often falls into both categories, understandably, and is likely to be subject to mandatory requirements for the development and deployment of AI tools.
This will be one of the first laws that the UK follows as the third county in its new era outside the EU. Whatever the future relationship between the EU and the UK, there are opportunities to share best practices and work across borders to turn the potential of AI into benefits for people.
NHS experience of value for the EU
The NHS has relevant expertise that could help European partners. Here are some examples of where, despite Brexit, Britain could continue to share experiences to achieve our targeted opportunities and goals:
coordination – NHSX was launched in 2018 to consolidate the strategy, leadership and technical expertise for the UK public sector digital transformation project. To coordinate the spread of healthcare technologies, the newly created NHS AI Laboratory supports and develops the ecosystem to bring together policies, partners, and programs for developing and delivering safe and effective AI applications. The lab will also support a £ 140m AI award to accelerate testing and adoption of the most promising tools with scale-up potential. Learning from this work could help the EU bring together different national approaches to AI and support the emergence of a dynamic industry in Europe.
standards – The NHS Code of Conduct for Data-Driven Technologies has been developed as a core resource for everyone involved in their development, deployment and use. It provides practical guidance on all issues related to regulation and access to data. Although the code has been recognized worldwide as a leading source of guidelines for ensuring that AI is used responsibly and safely, it cannot be effective if it is not adopted. To support this, NHSX is working to develop an online self-assurance portal to facilitate compliance with the code. This includes mapping the path of regulation and evaluating the need for future regulation of AI. This experience has already been shared with the European team of experts working on European guidelines for trusted AI.
guide – A final crucial element of a comprehensive AI approach that has been set by both the EU and the UK is leadership. The UK Secretary of Health recently described what is needed as “cultural change” so that the doctor who guides the introduction of the technology through her trust receives as much praise as the doctor who heads her medical department. NHSX’s Digital Ready Workforce Program is designed to provide executives, clinicians, and managers with the tools, confidence, and understanding needed to achieve this. The lessons learned here will be valuable for the EU if it continues on a common approach to AI.
In summary, AI is a strategic technology that offers many benefits to citizens and the economy, provided it is people-centric, ethical, and respects fundamental values. Given the convergence of EU and UK values and approaches to date, we have learned a lot from each other despite Brexit, which moves us apart in many ways. I recommend following the Commission’s advice that if we want to maximize the benefits and address the challenges of AI, we should “work together” to promote the development and use of AI based on shared values.
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