There is no doubt that artificial intelligence and the healthcare system will continue to make advances in the treatment and care of patients throughout the world. However, while some innovations will be looked upon by patients as a step in the right direction, others may not be viewed the same way as well as being frowned on. One such example came to light last month where Israeli doctors were using AI to decide whether to operate on a patient and patients were unaware that this selection process was going on.
Writer Yoav Stoler reported in an article that posted on December 25th, 2017 that several hospitals in Israel were testing software that uses AI technologies to assist doctors if certain patients should be operated on; this was done under a blanket of secrecy. Besides bringing up questions on if a computer program should choose which patients should be operated on, what makes this worse is that patients were not informed about this process.
AI Software Developed by MEDecide Ltd
The AI software that doctors were using in making these decisions was developed by a Tel Aviv-based startup created in 2015 known as MEDecide Ltd. There website states that they are a leading innovator regarding advanced artificial intelligence systems for the insurance/healthcare industry and the present new standards of safety to hospitals, insurers and employers that provide leading edge solutions, saving valuable resources and improving patients’ medical care.
The article mentions how the surgery department in an Israeli hospital that used the AI software most likely justified its’ use since it has the potential for assisting in the reduction of medical procedures that are not required, lowering risks and costs for insurers, patients and hospitals. The secrecy and lack of transparency to patients does create a lack of trust between doctor and patient.
The Israeli Ministry of Health Supports Pilot Program
The software is designed to utilize a patient’s information that includes levels of discomfort, test results, medication the patient is currently using and medical history to highlight several considerations. The result is a recommendation on if a surgery should or should not be performed while sometimes advocating for additional testing or other therapeutic procedures.
The AI software is reportedly being tested in several hospitals in Israel under a pilot program with the encouragement and approval of the Israeli Ministry of Health, which is a ministry within the Israeli government that has the responsibility of formulating health policies. They coordinate, plan, licenses and supervises healthcare services for the country. Their website is filled with lots of information that includes public inquiries, services and news and events; this includes warnings that are food and medicine-related.
Although the intentions of using MEDecide’ s software are for the benefit of patients, the lack of transparency was not sitting well with patients involved in an unannounced pilot program. According to Medecide’ s CEO and co-founder Hillary Harel, the technology was created to look at the issue of unneeded surgery with the target market of the company being the U.S., and until recently, the software has been targeted for operations that need health insurance pre-approval. She said that it’s the most common procedures, but also the ones that tend to have the highest rate of unnecessary surgeries.
Since the United States appears to be the target market for the use of the artificial intelligence software, it will remain to be seen how patients will react to having their surgery being decided by a computer program; that is, if the transparency is made available.