July 23, 2024

Health Benefit

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How Data Ambiguity Can Harm Usage of AI in Healthcare

3 min read

As per a study by Harvard’s School of Public Health, although it is early days for the use of Artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare, using the technology to make diagnoses may reduce treatment costs by up to 50 per cent and enhance health outcomes by 40 per cent. Administrative workflow can also be substantially reduced by AI which can also act as round-the-clock nursing attendant. However, there is also a flip side to its use, as AI can work only as well as the data it is given to work with. 

How has AI impacted healthcare? 

AI stands at the forefront of revolutionising healthcare, offering the promise of faster, more accurate, and personalised diagnosis and treatment for various medical conditions. With its potential to reshape medical research, drug discovery, and health management practices, AI represents a groundbreaking force in the healthcare industry. However, amidst these transformative benefits, AI also brings forth significant challenges and risks, particularly concerning the inherent ambiguity present in healthcare data. 

What is data ambiguity? 

Data ambiguity is characterised by uncertainty, incompleteness, inconsistency, or contradiction in data. It presents formidable obstacles to the seamless integration of AI in healthcare. This ambiguity permeates every stage of the data lifecycle, spanning from collection to processing, analysis, and communication. Inaccuracies during data collection, such as measurement errors or missing values, can distort patient or population characteristics, leading to flawed AI outputs. Similarly, errors in data processing, such as corruption or manipulation, may compromise data integrity and security, thereby undermining the reliability of AI-driven insights. The intricate and variable nature of healthcare data makes it susceptible to misinterpretation or misclassification by AI algorithms, potentially resulting in erroneous diagnoses or treatment recommendations.

How does data ambiguity impact healthcare? 

The consequences of data ambiguity in healthcare are multifaceted and profound. Diagnostic errors, stemming from AI’s misinterpretation of ambiguous data, can lead to delayed or incorrect treatment decisions, putting patient outcomes and well-being at risk. Similarly, treatment errors, driven by AI’s reliance on unreliable or incomplete data, may result in adverse or unnecessary medical interventions, exacerbating patient harm. Furthermore, data ambiguity can give rise to ethical and legal dilemmas, as AI systems may inadvertently violate patient privacy, security, or autonomy, eroding trust in healthcare practices and institutions. Additionally, uncertainties introduced by AI-driven decision-making processes may impact the human and social aspects of healthcare, including patient-provider relationships, professional roles, and societal norms.

How can these challenges be addressed? 

It requires a multifaceted approach that encompasses data quality improvement, AI system validation and verification, and robust regulation and governance frameworks. Enhancing the quality and reliability of healthcare data through rigorous collection, processing, and analysis practices is essential to mitigate ambiguity-related risks. Similarly, validating and verifying the performance and impact of AI systems through thorough testing, evaluation, and monitoring procedures can bolster confidence in their capabilities and outcomes. Furthermore, establishing ethical and legal frameworks to govern AI design and deployment is crucial for safeguarding patient rights, ensuring accountability, and promoting transparency in healthcare practices. 

What are some of the ways in which these challenges are being met?

Advanced data analytics techniques, such as natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning, offer innovative solutions for extracting meaningful insights from heterogeneous data sources, improving diagnostic accuracy, and enhancing clinical decision-making. Initiatives aimed at standardising data formats and terminologies, such as Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR), play a pivotal role in facilitating data interoperability and exchange across healthcare systems, thereby reducing ambiguity-related barriers to AI integration. 

Moreover, the development of transparent and explainable AI models is crucial for fostering trust and acceptance among healthcare professionals and patients. By providing insights into the decision-making processes of AI algorithms, these models empower clinicians to understand, validate, and contextualize AI-generated recommendations, facilitating collaboration and shared decision-making in clinical practice.

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