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A National Policy Roadmap for Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare will be launched at the Australasian Institute of Digital Health’s AI.Care 2023 conference in Melbourne next week (November 22-23, 2023.)

The plan is designed to drive a national policy agenda for Australia’s safe and ethical use of AI in healthcare.

Professor Enrico Coiera FAIDH, Director of the Centre for Health Informatics at the Australian Institute of Health Innovation, Macquarie University, and founder of the Australian Alliance for AI in Healthcare (AAAiH), will release the report and detail recommendations.

Policy recommendations in the roadmap will focus on five priority areas:

  1. AI safety, quality, ethics and security – ensuring the safe use of AI in healthcare.
  2. Workforce – enabling essential training and development of the healthcare and AI workforce.
  3. Consumers – ensuring health AI literacy and sensitivities for collecting Indigenous information.
  4. Industry – supporting industry to thrive and be competitive.
  5. Research – guiding the research that will protect Australia’s national interest.

At AI.Care, Professor Coiera will reveal 16 recommendations across these priority areas that he hopes will be implemented over the next two to three years.

He said North American dominance of digital health made it hard for startups here but the plan included recommendations to assist local startups, as well as research, as Australia was “at the back of the pack” in supporting AI research.

Too important not to get right

“This plan is needed because AI will touch everything we do,” Professor Coiera said. “The idea you can just drop AI in like a silver bullet makes no sense – we need a carefully constructed journey. The AI opportunity is too big to ignore and too important not to get right. If we do it well, there will be huge benefits but if it is done poorly, people will be harmed.”

The alliance (AAAiH) developed the roadmap after extensive consultation with representatives from federal, state and territory government departments, research, regulatory and professional bodies, consumer and industry representatives. The alliance has more than 100 member organisations from industry, health service providers, academia and consumer organisations.

It was supported in development of the plan by Macquarie University, the Australasian Institute of Digital Health, the CSIRO Australian eHealth Research Centre, RMIT University and the Digital Health Cooperative Research Centre.

Move fast to safeguard patients

Professor Coiera said AI offered enormous opportunity to revolutionise healthcare in Australia, but it came with risks that must be managed to ensure safety and privacy of patients.

“Australia needs to move fast to safeguard patients and support our healthcare and AI sectors, while taking advantage of the benefits and mitigating the risks of AI,” he said. “The governance of AI in healthcare needs to be one of the highest priorities for the nation.’’

He said investment by Australia to adopt AI in healthcare had been fragmented but the plan would help safeguard Australia and bring us in line with comparable nations such as the US and UK that had made substantial progress in investment and adoption.

While AI was being used in some parts of Australian healthcare, taking full advantage of potential benefits would require a mature, coordinated and system-wide approach.

“AI offers significant new possibilities for improving clinical diagnosis, treatment, and workflows,” he said. “It holds the potential to turn Australian healthcare into a learning system that is more agile, adaptive, personalised, safe, effective, and equitable, across research and development, into clinical settings and at home for patients and their families.”

Updated plan includes generative AI

Professor Coiera formed the alliance five years ago because he said despite evidence that AI was a tremendous opportunity for healthcare to improve care, Australia was nowhere near ready in terms of standards to seize the opportunity for safe and ethical use. The alliance brought together key players and stakeholders to support each other and avoid duplication.

“He said a previous roadmap released in 2021 had limited cut-through due to the pandemic, and an updated version was needed because of the rapid acceleration of AI innovation over the past two years, particularly with generative AI.”

“It was imperative to ring the bell again and we had much wider consultation this time, including with organisations that will have owned governance of initiatives, industry and many government representatives,” Professor Coiera said.

Co-founder of AAAiH, Executive Dean of RMIT University School of Computing Technologies, Professor Karin Verspoor FAIDH, said uploading sensitive patient data into AI systems such as ChatGPT, which sit outside local security controls, would prove problematic from privacy and consent perspectives.

Professor Verspoor, who will be on a panel at AI.Care discussing the roadmap, said AI must be trained on data relevant to the population in which it will be used.

“It is therefore essential that Australia develop its own representative and robust data set on which to train AI,” she said.

AI.Care the perfect event for the launch

AI.Care is the perfect event to launch the roadmap as it will draw together hundreds of experts and people working in healthcare and AI to discuss how AI can be safely, ethically and efficiently implemented in Australian healthcare. They will be keen to hear about recommendations and how they can assist in progressing and actioning the plan.

AI.Care registration is open until Friday 17 November.

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