Ethical Issues of Artificial Intelligence in Medicine and Healthcare

Ethical issues of artificial intelligence in medicine and healthcare. Farhud DD, Zokaei S. Iran J Public Health. 2021;50:0


The term “Artificial Intelligence (AI)” itself is quite broad in that it can be used to describe any piece of software or device with cognitive abilities; similar to those of humans. With the increasing prevalence of digitalization of many global industries, the field of healthcare now faces the challenge of this “double-edged sword” as it is tasked with balancing the vast benefits of AI alongside the ethical and moral dilemmas it also presents.

A robot in a hospital bed

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Applications within healthcare

AI already plays a major role in the medical profession as technologies are being used daily to assist clinicians in their field of work. Some applications include holding patient electronic records (EMR), influencing decisions of clinicians in treatment, providing preventive and precise medicine, analysing data to assist with prognosis and diagnosing patients through biological analysis. AI also has the potential capacity to surpass human cognizant ability via its use in new drug discovery trials.

Privacy and Data Protection

One of the grey clouds which looms over the justifiability of AI in the medical world is whether the data of patients will remain safe and secure within the systems responsible for holding and processing this information. Current laws lack the rigidity to protect privacy as the absence of a strict governing body encourages potential companies and service providers being encouraged to sell data to external corporations. Additionally, clinical data can also be collected and repurposed by hackers gaining access to these systems.

Informed Consent and Autonomy 

Informed consent is gained through the vital human-to-human interaction process during the treatment course. A lack of this interaction poses threats such as patients not knowing the risks of procedures involved in treatment (screening, imaging etc.), difficulty in determining liability for medical errors which may occur, increased ambiguity over the direction of the course of treatment and difficulty in the ability to refuse treatment. Answers to this subcategory are essential to maintain patient rights.

Social Gaps and Justice 

The varying rates of global development presents a potential challenge of increasing socioeconomic disparities amongst more affluent regions, who may have greater access to these advanced technologies, relative to the less developed regions. Further issues surrounding job loss and considerable salary drops also present themselves.

Medical Consultations, Empathy and Sympathy

The uniqueness of human emotions involved in every patient interaction may diminish as AI’s autonomous systems may not be able to emulate this characteristic. This has potential implications generally on the healing process of every patient but more considerably on children with anxiety or fear and psychiatric patients.

A person looking at a robot

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The speed at which AI is advancing the medical profession every year shows its great potential for the future in the betterment of patient outcomes. However, this rate of progression also leaves questions unanswered with regards to the safe use of AI in the industry. Consequently, clinicians should push to improve their knowledge surrounding these issues and take actions to mitigate the likeliness of such occurrences. Experts should also “consider humanity and ethics” when it comes to the regulations and implementation of AI in a field such as healthcare.

Research Summary Written By: Qasim Arain, University of Manchester – BDS1

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