Towards a European strategy for AI in Healthcare

Leading to 2020 several European countries have launched their national AI strategies, the European Commission put forward a European approach to Artificial Intelligence, a Coordinated Plan on Artificial Intelligence “Made in Europe”, laid out the path for Building Trust in Human Centric Artificial Intelligence and set up a High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence (AI HLEG) which presented their Policy and Investment Recommendations for Trustworthy AI. And in 2020, Artificial Intelligence will continue to be very much a priority for the European Union.

The recent paper Artificial Intelligence: Power for Civilisation – and for Better Healthcare that I had the honor to co-author asserts that Europe’s goal should be to integrate AI into health-related operations, so as to improve clinical care, drive new therapies and treatments, and make healthcare systems more efficient.

Data Front and Centre
Europe is currently proving that it is capable of working together and sharing as the enthusiasm resulting from what was originally named the MEGA initiative (standing for Million European Genomes Alliance and proposed by our colleagues at the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine), now renamed as European ‘1+ Million Genomes’ Initiative, has clearly demonstrated. There is an undoubted willingness on the part of many Member States, and the regions within them, to collaborate when it comes to data sharing in healthcare, and not just in genomics.

We must focus on regulatory and technological options to maximize the value of health data without compromising patients’ privacy. In Europe, processing of data concerning health is regulated by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). But while the GDPR is an EU-wide data protection law, it does not completely harmonize data protection rules across the EU. An example that other Member States are invited to consider is Finland’s Act on the Secondary Use of Health and Social Data (see this blog to learn why).

What’s next?
In the paper Artificial Intelligence: Power for Civilisation – and for Better Healthcare we propose that the EU should put in place a coherent strategy for AI in healthcare to prepare the healthcare systems in Europe so that the benefits from AI can be felt by patients, healthcare systems, and society at large. That breaks down into a series of specific actions that the paper describes in detail:

  • creating EU-wide common data spaces that promote access to health data in a secure environment, with 100% of health data digitized within 5 years and with robust semantic and technical interoperability;
  • integrating AI into Europe’s operations to improve clinical care, drive new therapies and treatments, and make healthcare systems more efficient;
  • committing resources to development and adoption of AI and promoting its use, through testing innovative AI solutions in healthcare settings;
  • building trust by promoting the engagement of all healthcare stakeholders to understand the technology, and training and education for patients, medical professionals, healthcare organisations, policymakers, and governments;
  • guarding against any unintended consequences of its use, through appropriate policy frameworks that preserve privacy while permitting innovation, and that address data bias and promote equitable access.

Europe stands on the brink of a huge success – the prize is within reach. If it manages to seize the opportunity that AI presents for healthcare, it can improve life for its citizens, make better use of its healthcare budgets, and enhance its competitiveness in a sector that will dominate global growth for a generation.