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February 25, 2024 - 6 minutes

Ethical Implications of AI in Healthcare: Balancing Innovation and Patient Care

Discover how to balance innovation and the highest possible patient care with artificial intelligence.

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Artificial Intelligence

The healthcare industry has long been focused on providing the best possible patient care and as the world has become more interconnected, a whole new range of challenges was introduced: how can doctors communicate between each other while still respecting patient privacy? What limits are there to sharing patient diagnosis and treatment information in the interest of research while still respecting patient privacy? And to what extent can technology be used to revolutionize the way that patients are treated? 

These burning questions have come to the forefront of healthcare in recent years and have only been further exacerbated by the introduction of artificial intelligence. Now more than ever before, experts need to determine the extent to which artificial intelligence can be used in healthcare to improve patient care and research while still maintaining a positive ethical position. 

In this article, we’ll dive into some of the ethical issues that artificial intelligence generally presents, then focus more on healthcare and how this industry specifically is handling the ethical dilemmas presented by artificial intelligence. 

Artificial Intelligence and Ethics 

As the power of artificial intelligence is brought to the hands of everyday people and more and more people are looking to harness its power for their own industry, the question of ethics has quickly become a popular topic. From cheating on tests in school to using AI tools to create compromising images of celebrities, we’ve quickly learned that artificial intelligence can certainly be used negatively which poses the question: how, if at all, can artificial intelligence be controlled ethically?

AI experts have agreed on five main aspects to help facilitate the control of AI: fairness and bias, trust and transparency, accountability, social benefit, and privacy and security:

  • Fairness and bias: first things first: artificial intelligence systems have to be able to avoid bias and make suggestions based solely on data; if artificial intelligence tools are trained to prefer a certain race or gender while being created and then left to make decisions on its own, the outcome can be incredibly dangerous. Therefore, ensuring that AI systems are fair and free of bias is the first step towards ensuring the ethical usage of AI.

  • Trust and transparency: for the majority of people, and perhaps everyone except those specifically involved in the creation of artificial intelligence tools, how AI actually works is a bit of a mystery. In order to ensure that this unknown aspect of artificial intelligence is removed from the equation, the creation and subsequent training of artificial intelligence tools must be transparent. 

  • Accountability: when humans are behind a tool or process, there’s a clear system of accountability in place if something goes wrong. But when artificial intelligence is left in charge, who’s to blame if something doesn’t go according to plan? This matter of accountability is crucial to also ensuring the transparency of AI tools.

  • Social benefit: as the use of artificial intelligence becomes more widespread, the question of where research and development efforts should be focused is gaining traction, with many desiring that AI is used solely for efforts that positively impact society as a whole. 

  • Privacy and security: the privacy regulations that govern the world need to adapt to include artificial intelligence as well; specific aspects such as facial recognition and data storage need to be carefully regulated to ensure full compliance and the protection of individuals’ data. 

Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare 

Before we dive right into the specific challenges that must be addressed before artificial intelligence becomes a staple of the healthcare industry, it’s important to first identify examples of artificial intelligence in healthcare so that we’re able to fully understand the ethical implications of including these tools in patient care. 

As you can probably imagine, there are a lot of applications of AI in healthcare and more are being discovered on a regular basis. But in this article, we’re going to focus on four areas: diagnosing diseases, predicting outcomes, automating tasks, and recommending treatment:

  • Diagnosing diseases: when medical professionals make a diagnosis, they’re relying on their knowledge and research of symptoms and test results to accurately tell the patient what’s going on. And while they’re usually able to rely on their education and experiences to correctly diagnose a patient, AI tools can help sift through incredible amounts of patient data to identify similar trends or patterns from other patients around the world, not just those that the medical professional has already seen, and make an even more informed diagnosis.

  • Predicting outcomes: similarly to diagnosing diseases, medical professionals use past patient data to predict outcomes and with the help of AI tools that can process vast quantities of data and make suggestions, these tools can help doctors properly predict specific outcomes based on certain treatment plans, helping patients and their medical teams make the most informed decision. 

  • Automating tasks: from payroll to updating patient charts, there are a lot of tedious and time-consuming tasks in the healthcare field and thanks to automation through artificial intelligence tools, medical professionals are able to automate these responsibilities and free up their time for more important responsibilities. 

  • Recommending treatment: the correct course of treatment depends heavily on the exact medical history and symptoms of the patient and sometimes medical professionals are forced to try out different options before finding one that works; with AI tools that can help match the patient’s symptoms and case with similar ones, medical professionals are better prepared to make treatment recommendations. 

As you can see, artificial intelligence has some incredible uses in the healthcare field and will continue to impact how patients receive treatment. But as we explored above, there are certain risks associated with artificial intelligence usage, especially as it gains popularity in the healthcare field. Let’s dive even deeper. 

Ethical Issues with Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare 

As with the introduction of artificial intelligence in practically every single sector, there are a number of ethical implications that need to be addressed and dealt with to ensure that patients are protected. Balancing innovation and patient care is fundamental to providing the best possible patient experience; let’s explore the five ethical concerns of artificial intelligence in the healthcare sector that we explained above: fairness and bias, trust and transparency, accountability, social benefit, and privacy and security.

Fairness and bias in healthcare 

Bias in healthcare is a problem that’s existed for a long time, with minority groups having higher mortality rates and misdiagnoses and even though the numbers are improving, if AI tools were trained to have biases, whether intentionally or unintentionally, this problem would persist and possibly become worse. Therefore, it’s essential that tools are properly trained to be bias-free and continuously updated to ensure that they’re still meeting the proper standards. 

Trust and transparency in healthcare 

Patients have a right to understand how their healthcare treatments are being decided and it’s absolutely essential for artificial intelligence tools to be transparent in not only their creation, but also how they’re coming to their decisions. Therefore, artificial intelligence systems need to be clearly explained to both patients and medical professionals and provide reasoning for how they arrived at their recommendations. 

Transparency surrounding how healthcare tools are created and used is also paramount when it comes to ensuring the proper use; if a tool is mysteriously created and users aren’t sure about how to use it because its creation and functions aren’t clear, the probability of misuse and consequent less than ideal outcomes rises significantly. 

Accountability in healthcare 

Some decisions in healthcare are life or death and just like we outlined above, there needs to be a clear path for both accountability and responsibility in the case that something goes wrong and to instill more trust in the tool. As more and more medical professionals put their trust in these tools and put the treatment and lives of patients on the suggestions of artificial intelligence, clear accountability is absolutely essential. 

Social benefit in healthcare 

We’re just on the forefront of all that artificial intelligence can do, but the future is looking practically limitless; although what we can do with AI seems to cover practically any possibility, we need to ensure that AI tools in healthcare are being used for social benefit and for the good of the patient at all times. 

Although it may be tempting to transform other aspects of healthcare with AI tools, patient safety and social benefit need to consistently be at the front of our minds. 

Privacy and security in healthcare 

We mentioned before that one of artificial intelligence’s most powerful abilities is the capacity to analyze large amounts of data and in the healthcare field, patients need to be guaranteed data privacy and security when it comes to their data being shared with other medical professionals or hospitals; if AI tools aren’t designed with the ability to resist cyberattacks or remove identifying information from data sets, patient confidentiality could be at risk. 

As you can see, artificial intelligence has the potential to truly transform the healthcare field, but only as long as its use is controlled and monitored over time to ensure the best possible patient treatment. 

Skilled artificial intelligence professionals are needed and at Ironhack, we’re dedicated to preparing the next generation of techies for the workforce with our new Artificial Intelligence Bootcamp. Explore what your future could be and we’ll see you in class! 

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