A UK government-commissioned of the life sciences sector has identified health-based AI as a growth opportunity.
The UK is a leader in artificial intelligence while also benefiting from a wealth of patient data as part of its National Health Service. Both of these factors make the UK a potential hotbed for the development of .
“AI is likely to be used widely in healthcare and it should be the ambition for the UK to develop and test integrated AI systems that provide real-time data better than human monitoring and prediction of a wide range of patient outcomes in conditions such as mental health, cancer, and inflammatory disease,” writes Sir John Bell of Oxford University in the report.
The NHS treats over 65 million patients and has collected valuable data that, with sufficient oversight, could make a huge difference to medical research. AI News has already reported how artificial intelligence is certain serious conditions.
For the development of health-focused AI in the UK to be a success, the report calls for a new regulatory framework which provides researchers with access to patient data while protecting their privacy.
In his report, Bell notes the inadequacy of “current or planned” regulations for machine learning algorithms which update with new data. Our sister publication, IoT News, recently posted on how EU regulations put AI startups in Europe at risk of being left behind. It’s clear for AI to thrive a more friendly regulatory environment is required.
A healthy balance
Getting the balance right, however, is a difficult problem. Google-owned UK AI pioneer DeepMind partnered with the NHS to develop a clinical task management app. The partnership came under investigation, and the ICO determined it breached UK privacy law.
The ICO concluded the 1.6 million NHS patients whose medical records were shared with Google without their explicit consent would not have “reasonably expected” their information to be used in this manner.
However, Google-DeepMind also has arrangements for various projects with other NHS trusts. A partnership with Moorfields Eye Hospital provides the AI company with legal and free access to one million “anonymised” eye scans. Using this data, DeepMind and Moorfields are hoping to develop an AI which can automate the diagnoses of two eye conditions.
Once the AI is adept, it can be sold around the world to other practices and medical institutions. This is the model DeepMind intends to follow.
“We have to build a sustainable business model on this. We’ve been clear about that from the outset,” explained DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman during an outreach event last year. “What we would like to do is get paid, at least some proportion of what we get paid, to be connected to the actual concrete, clinical outcomes.”
Of course, the pitch to consumers to provide their health data is easier when they have something to see for it. During last year’s presentation, Suleyman displayed a prototype for ‘Patient Portal’ where patients can interact with their health data on their phones.
In his report, Bell also highlights the need for transparency. “Many more people support than oppose health data being used by commercial organisations undertaking health research, but it is also clear that strong patient and clinician engagement and involvement, alongside clear permissions and controls, are vital to the success of any health data initiative,” he writes.
Rather than just allowing large companies such as Google to come in and strip the valuable data of the NHS, Bell wants the UK government to be proactive in establishing a framework whereby the NHS — and the taxpayers which fund it — benefit from it. This would prevent companies building health-focused AIs off patients for free, only to sell it back to them if they want to use it.
Should health-focused AI development be a strategic priority? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
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