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Use of artificial intelligence on the rise, but its impact on health still limited, new study finds

Artificial intelligence (AI) is fuelling a new revolution in medicine and in the health care sector, primarily for image analysis and disease modelling, but its impact on people’s health is still limited, according to a new study by the Universitat Politècnica de València and WHO in the International Journal of Medical Informatics. 

AI is used in several ways in health care, from molecular and genetics testing to medical imaging, diagnostic codes analysis, and in infectious disease outbreak predictions as part of health emergencies protection programmes. However, its application remains limited and is used most often only in laboratories and testing, the study says, noting, “Despite the great advances and the high level of maturity of AI in certain clinical domains, the review of systematic reviews concludes that the use of AI is still scarce in clinical practice.”

Dr Natasha Azzopardi-Muscat, Director of the Division of Country Health Policies and Systems at WHO/Europe, and Dr David Novillo-Ortiz, Regional Advisor on Data and Digital Health, are among the authors of the paper, together with experts from the Universitat Politècnica de València in Spain. The paper reviewed 129 studies and systematic reviews to reach its conclusions. 

Digital data interventions can enhance population health 

AI can provide powerful tools to automate tasks and support and inform clinicians, epidemiologists and policy-makers on the most efficient strategies to promote health at a population and individual level, the paper says.

Looking ahead, the paper also notes that the use of digital data has the potential to improve people’s health and well-being and to protect them better from emergencies. At the same time, it says digital data should be boosted by the use of “machine learning algorithms in population-based, clinical decision-making with the use of big data and new communication technologies”.

Many of the reviews concluded that AI and machine learning “will play an important role helping clinicians to identify specific indicators”, leading to better diagnosis, treatment and outcomes, but methodological aspects should be duly considered to make real progress in benefitting science and, therefore, universal health care. 

Health care systems will be able to improve the quality of universal health coverage and better respond to emergencies in the future through AI modelling, the authors note. 

In a related development, WHO/Europe reported earlier this year that “advances in big data and artificial intelligence have opened new opportunities for monitoring health and fighting noncommunicable diseases, or NCDs”.



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