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07.16.20

Demystifying AI in health care — So what is artificial intelligence, anyway?

BY Sarah E. Swank

Artificial intelligence (or AI) was pushed into the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. AI emerged in other industries and started to penetrate the health care market before the novel (new) coronavirus. While it appears the pandemic has pushed us years into the future, we continue to struggle defining AI and the legal guide posts in health care.

So, what is AI in health care?

AI is difficult to define. Generally, it is the term for the development of computer algorithms to generate predictive models. But it can also be more. In health care, AI could apply to patient care, medical devices, clinical research, telehealth, and revenue cycle. If successful, AI delivers results reportedly faster and more accurately than humans, and potentially provides real time data or augmented decision making for clinicians. Clearer definitions of AI will likely come with reimbursement and new legal changes.

But what does that really mean for health care right now?

As the first telehealth surges and medical offices adjust to COVID-19 exposure risks and shortages of PPE, bots screen for COVID-19 when call centers and offices become overwhelmed. AI also supports vaccine and drug development as well as surge detection and supply movement, which are critical to our fight against the pandemic.

What does the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) think?

Last year, the FDA put forward a proposed regulatory framework for medical devices containing AI technology. The FDA defined AI broadly as “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs.” The framework focuses on transparency, patient safety, and an ongoing review process as machines “learn.”

So far, the proposed framework has not changed.

In February 2020, the FDA held a public workshop with radiologists and others to see how AI and radiological imaging might help identify and treat COVID-19.

So, what is augmented intelligence in medicine?

Augmented intelligence is a term adopted by the American Medical Association (AMA). The idea is that in medicine AI focuses on augmenting or enhancing human intelligence rather than replacing it.

The takeaway — it’s complicated.

AI is here. And while there is not currently a single definition, they do blend technology, medicine, and law. Even still, these definitions are often inconsistent or unclear, which reflects how it is a complex situation that continues to evolve.

Tags: Health Care

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Author

Sarah E. Swank

Counsel

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