Charting Australia’s healthcare journey into the age of artificial intelligence

Professor Enrico Coiera
Professor Enrico Coiera

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ACTIONS FOR POLICY AND IMPLEMENTATION

For Australia to effectively exploit the potential of Artificial Intelligence in healthcare, it will need the full engagement of government and key decision makers in agreeing and investing in a whole-of-nation strategy. The AAAiH roadmap process provides a critical and timely opportunity to kick start this important national conversation.

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Professor Enrico Coiera
Director Centre for Health Informatics
Director NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Digital Health
Director, Australian Alliance for AI in Healthcare, 
Australian Institute of Health Innovation, Macquarie University

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RESEARCH CONTEXT

Healthcare has well-known and seemingly intractable challenges around the safety, quality and effectiveness of clinical services. COVID-19 has only increased these system-wide challenges. There are no magic bullets, but many see digital health, and specifically Artificial Intelligence (AI), as essential to any solution. Why then is Australia still without a national roadmap for AI in healthcare?

AI allows automation of skilled tasks from diagnosis and treatment selection, through to optimising triage and hospital discharge decisions, and even reducing documentation burden. The most reliable estimate for the potential for AI comes from Lord Darzi’s review of the NHS, where modelling identified productivity improvement with smart automation of £12.5 billion a year, or 9.9% of the NHS England budget.

This potential is driving extraordinary investments globally. The English NHS allocated over £1 billion to support initiatives such as a £250 million national AI laboratory, and translational AI research centres targeted at reducing cancer deaths by 10% (22,000 lives) per year by 2035. KPMG data indicate US industry investment in AI for healthcare will reach US$6.6 billion in 2021 (a 40% CAGR), driven by potential total savings of US$150 billion by 2026.

Australia has been slow to engage with the opportunities of AI, which start with a once in a generation chance for new local industries to build innovative AI technology for healthcare and end with a reimagining of how health services are delivered, and potentially transformative improvements in a wide variety of clinical and economic outcomes. Yet at present Australia has no national healthcare strategy for AI, and our national capacity to engage with this agenda is still in its early stages of development.

The Australian Alliance for AI in Healthcare (AAAiH) is aiming to plug this critical gap by developing a roadmap to guide national AI policy. Comprising over 90 organisations that include clinical and consumer groups, industry, health service providers and government, AAAiH’s roadmap aims to chart a course that will see Australia exploit the natural advantages of our health system and with time take a global lead.

The roadmap will consider critical elements such as development of workforce and national capabilities in AI, regulation and governance to oversee the safety and ethical use of clinical AI, investment in research and industry development, and identify leading uses of the technology both in the hands of consumers as well as clinicians, and public health. AAAiH is undertaking a range of activities and consultations that will see the roadmap launched in the second half of 2021.

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For more information visit: https://aihealthalliance.org