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Action needed now to increase public trust in use of AI in NHS, say Oxford academics


Action needed now to increase public trust in use of AI in NHS, say Oxford academics

Published on
29 Nov 2019
Leading experts in AI and ethics from Oxford Internet Institute (OII), University of Oxford, are urging healthcare professionals in private and public service to come together to boost public trust in AI-based healthcare.

In an open letter, published today in medical journal The Lancet Digital Health, lead author Jess Morley, Researcher, together with Dr Mariarosaria Taddeo, Deputy Director, and Professor Luciano Floridi, Director, OII’s Digital Ethics Lab, outline the steps they believe necessary to increase trust amongst the public and avoid scepticism amongst clinicians over the potential for AI-based technologies, such as those offered by Google Health, to deliver front line savings.

Google Health launched as a new pillar of Google research in September 2019 to unite digital health research going on across Google and its subsidiaries – including at DeepMind Health – in order to maximise impact. One major branch of research spearheaded by the technology giant is focused on how AI-based technologies can be used in the NHS to detect, diagnose, and treat diseases.

Jess Morley, Researcher at the Digital Ethics Lab, Oxford Internet Institute and lead author of the paper said:

“AI based healthcare solutions have the potential to bring major benefits to the NHS in the UK, but unlocking these opportunities will not be easy. Currently there is a lack of public trust in AI technologies. This is caused in part by recent data breach incidents involving users’ records and the fact clinicians have yet to see AI-driven health solutions make a real difference to the front line. Fortunately, measures to gain trust need not be complicated and there are things we can do now to make a real difference.”

The open letter sets out three recommendations for Google Health and the NHS. They build on existing frameworks aimed at increasing trust in AI technologies:

  • Engagement – Google Health and the NHS should engage regularly with those affected by the introduction of new technologies, and those affected should have the opportunity to feedback and shape the system.
  • Governance – an Independent Review Board should be established to monitor, analyse, and address issues that arise at individual and collective levels.
  • Transparency – Google Health and the NHS should publish the aims and scopes of all their partnerships and should commit to open evaluation and regular feedback.

Dr Mariarosaria Taddeo, Deputy Director, Digital Ethics Lab, Oxford Internet Institute adds:

“Capitalising on the opportunities of the Google Health-NHS partnerships for the benefit of all users will certainly be challenging, but it is possible. If the two organisations follow the steps we’ve outlined while policymakers remain mindful of the risks, ready to redress errors and wary of vendor lock-in, then hypothetical benefits could soon become a reality.”

Professor Luciano Floridi, Director, Digital Ethics Lab, Oxford Internet Institute concludes:

“The alternative is to risk losing a significant portion of trust – not only in Google Health, but also in AI health solutions – resulting in a stifling of innovation and considerable opportunity costs. Avoiding this risk must be a key priority for all involved in the healthcare system”.

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