Artificial Intelligence (AI) has enormous potential in the field of health and medicine. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes that its adoption can contribute to improving diagnoses, disease prevention and clinical care , especially in low- and middle-income countries with limited access to health services.
However, Carla Sáenz , director of the Regional Bioethics Program of the Pan American Health Organization – Washi , warns that the benefits of AI in public health depend on inclusive technological development.
“ For the technology to work, it needs the dataset it uses to do this subsequent matching to be complete, inclusive (…). The benefit will only be possible if there is data from people like me in the data banks to make the predictions”, he stated during a virtual forum organized by the Development Bank of Latin America-CAF.
If the importance that technologies such as Artificial Intelligence play today in the provision of health services is recognized, a commitment must be assumed with an ethical and inclusive approach from a public health perspective, Sáenz stressed.
The bioethicist pointed out that Artificial Intelligence systems require complete and unbiased databases to contribute to the improvement of health services. For example, there are some projects that use AI to detect diseases such as diabetes, but if the systems are not trained with information that represents genetic diversity, a significant part of the population will be left out.
Likewise, if the databases with which the Artificial Intelligence systems are trained do not contain enough data on women , the health solutions that are designed will be biased and will not address the specific problems that affect them, pointed out Valérie Gauthier Umaña , professor Assistant of the Department of Computer and Systems Engineering of the Universidad de los Andes.
Carla Sáenzs added that the success of AI adoption in the health field also depends on generating enough trust in citizens and creating governance schemes to guarantee its ethical use.
Telemedicine for universal access to health
During the discussion, Dilberth Cordero Valdivia , principal executive of CAF ‘s Department of Social Development Projects , highlighted the opportunities that telemedicine presents to move towards universal health coverage.
Telemedicine would make it possible to bring health services, such as teleconsultations and even remote diagnoses, to areas and communities with little access to clinics or hospitals. During the pandemic, for example, some countries adopted telemedicine to expand their healthcare capacity as hospitals were overwhelmed.
However, taking advantage of telemedicine and technology as a whole still faces obstacles: a very important one is the digital divide, warned Valérie Gauthier. The expert explained that, if there is no coverage of high-speed Internet service and access to devices, the most vulnerable people will also be left behind in this type of service.