NHS needs to do more to inform public on AI benefits, report warns


The NHS needs to do more to inform the public about the benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) in order for the life-saving potential of the technology to be realised, a new report has warned.

The report, ‘Putting patients at the heart of artificial intelligence’, found the spread of misinformation about the technology undermines public confidence.

To alleviate this, the newly formed NHSX should work with charities and patient organisations to better understand the public’s concerns about AI in healthcare and ensure that the technology is developed with the “explicit purpose of understanding, promoting, and protecting public values”.

Henry Smith MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on heart and circulatory disease which produced the report, said in a foreword that AI has the potential to address the challenges of heart diseases on a “larger and faster scale”.

But the speed of new development presents policy makers with a number of challenges, including “ensuring a suitable regulatory framework; equitable access to technologies; strengthening ethical standards; and ensuring the NHS workforce is adequately trained to use new technologies”.

The report makes six key recommendations, including the guidance for NHSX.

They include:

  • Using similar mechanisms to those used by Understanding Patient Data (UPD) to engage with the public about AI
  • NHS England and NHS Digital should expand work on digital inclusion to explore wearables and AI
  • NSH England and National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) should work together to develop reporting standards for AI

The APPG on heart and circulatory diseases surveyed 128 patients to gain an understanding of how the public viewed AI.

While 85% of respondents said AI should be used in healthcare, 17% were aware of any current uses of AI in the diagnosis and treatment of heart and circulatory disease.

Some 90% of respondents felt the NHS should be informing the public about AI in healthcare.

“AI has the potential to offer significant opportunities for the NHS to address the challenges of heart and circulatory diseases on a larger and faster scale than ever before,” Mr Smith added.

“The NHS has an important role to play to help make sure patients have access to, and understanding of, information about the potential of this technology.”

The British Heart Foundation (BHF), which helped inform the report, already has a number of AI project underway.

A team at the University of Cambridge are developing a machine learning tool that helps predict people’s risk of heart disease based on their health records, thanks to joint funding from the British Heart Foundation and the Alan Turning Institute.

Researchers plan to use the long-term health records of over two million people in the UK to develop the algorithm.

Speaking on the new report Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the BHF said: “It is now essential that the NHS, charities, and the wider healthcare and research communities help to build public trust and confidence in these innovative and potentially life-saving technologies based on realistic assessments of their potential uses, benefits and risks.”

A recent paper commissioned by NHS Digital found AI isn’t going to solve all the problems facing the healthcare sector, but that it can reduce health inequality.

The same report concluded a line “needs to be drawn” to establish accountability between clinicians and technology to avoid clinicians incorrectly trusting decisions made by AI more than they trust their own.

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