Australasia's leading voice in digital health news
Twitter X Logo

Opinion: Advancing artificial intelligence in healthcare in Australia

21 March 2024
By Mark Nevin
Image: iStockphoto

The rapid acceleration of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies is increasing the urgency to ensure Australia’s digital health community is equipped to lead the adoption of AI in a safe, responsible and effective way.

This AI revolution is already impacting healthcare pathways from screening to diagnosis, treatments and personalised therapeutics, with implications for ethics, patient safety, workforce and industry.

As Australasia’s peak body for digital health, the Australasian Institute of Digital Health (AIDH) has an ambitious program of work planned for 2024 to continue to support the safe adoption of AI in healthcare.

At our board strategy day in February, AI was an agreed key priority for this year and that AIDH should forge ahead with significant plans to promote responsible use of AI in healthcare, including collaborating with other stakeholders to achieve this important goal.

There are multiple reasons why more needs to be done to advance AI in healthcare in Australia, with health and financial benefits at the top of the list. Unlike other developed nations, Australia lags behind in co-ordinated support for the healthcare Al sector.

This is despite achievable healthcare benefits including reducing national health expenditure and improving the quality of life of Australians by contributing to long-term health system safety and effectiveness. A review of the English NHS found productivity improvements from Al of £12.5 billion a year were possible (9.9 per cent of that budget). Similar impacts should be possible in Australia.

The limited penetration of AI into Australian healthcare is due to an unprepared ecosystem.

Supporting roadmap implementation

One pivotal development for AI in Australia is the publication of the National Policy Roadmap for Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare. Founder of the Australian Alliance for Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare (AAAiH) Enrico Coiera launched the roadmap at the AIDH’s AI.Care conference in Melbourne in November 2023.

AIDH has been a central player in the alliance since its inception. It is an invaluable platform for collaboration between academia, industry, healthcare organisations and government.

AIDH is proud to have contributed to the roadmap’s development and will help progress its recommendations. It shows the way for the digital health community, industry and governments to establish guardrails for the implementation of AI so it benefits, rather than harms, patients.

The roadmap identifies gaps in Australia’s capability to translate AI effectively and safely into clinical services. It identifies what is needed to build capabilities of industry, support implementation, enhance regulation and provides guidance on how to address these gaps holistically.

AIDH will support its implementation through workforce upskilling, community engagement and our policy and advocacy work as the peak body for digital health.

Readers will be aware that Australia has several regulatory and government agencies responsible for different aspects of AI, but as the roadmap argues, a coordinated system-wide approach is needed to ensure patients are protected, our health workforce is optimised and Australia can foster a healthcare-specific AI industry.

A critical frontier for the AI industry in healthcare is in accessing the necessary knowhow, technology, curated data and resources to develop, attain approval for and implement real-world AI scalable systems that enhance patient care. That is easier said than achieved. Those capability gaps hinder the successful adoption of recent and anticipated AI advances into tools that enhance frontline health services.

Implementation and scalability of AI in health have also been limited by complexities of care delivery and limited availability of an Al literate workforce. Where AI has been adopted successfully, this involved close collaboration between developers, clinical experts and health providers to address challenges in safety and ethics, and access to IP and quality, curated data.

Preparing the health sector and industry for AI

AI has been a central and recurring theme at digital health conferences and events in recent years, laying important baseline understanding of the opportunity and challenges.

Our inaugural AI.Care conference last year aimed to progress the dialogue to how the digital health community can implement AI safely. Enduring demand for insights in this area means we will reconvene this conference again this year and in future years. The format brings together health experts in AI and industry, with the potential for shared learnings, workshops and fostering of partnerships between small and medium enterprises, larger technology players and the digital health community.

Partnerships are critical in a rapidly changing world of new technologies, allowing firms and providers to quickly source external talent and capabilities, thereby accelerating their ability to solve problems, improve service offerings and achieve scale. AIDH is at the centre of a large and vibrant digital health community. We play a key role in bringing people together and allowing them to share ideas, establish and deepen links with a wide array of experts.

Many of our fellows (FAIDH), certified health informaticians (CHIAs) and other members have many years of experience working with AI, providing an invaluable pool of expertise for new partnerships and to progress the roadmap’s plans and recommendations.

AIDH is also working to deepen our relationships with the alliance and government to place our members at the heart of the health sector’s journey into AI. We look forward to leveraging our collective expertise to support Australia’s use of these new technologies.

Workforce upskilling in digital health and AI

AIDH is also instrumental in delivering national digital health workforce projects that will benefit AI. These were recently highlighted in Australia’s Digital Health Blueprint 2023-2033 and Action Plan and also in Australia’s National Digital Health Strategy 2023-2028 and an accompanying Strategy Delivery Roadmap to support implementation.

One foundational action was the release of an online Digital Health Hub developed by the AIDH in partnership with the Australian Digital Health Agency. The hub is built to assist clinical and non-clinical professionals in building their career pathways, digital health capability and confidence, preparing the health workforce to use digital technologies including AI.

This year, the hub will be enhanced with additional curated digital health workforce content and resources for digital health learning, education and practice. The hub can assess both individual capabilities and organisation-wide workforce readiness for digital adoption.

The adoption of AI technologies at scale requires leadership skills, robust clinical governance and advanced AI expertise in the health workforce. Clinical expertise in AI is required to apply ethical principles to specific use cases and prepare for on-site deployment. Experts will train their colleagues to become competent users of AI: understanding the shortcomings of an AI tool, their clinical responsibilities, how to mitigate risks and explain findings to patients.

In 2024, AIDH will progress work to build and pilot new fellowship pathways for clinical and non-clinical professionals, which include post graduate study, mentorship, practical application of skills and an exit assessment. This work will allow digital health professionals to acquire valuable skills and experience, while tailoring their own journey to become deep subject matter experts. We anticipate many choosing to specialise in the field of AI.

Leadership will be essential to manage the changes ahead as we adopt AI at scale. This year will also see the return of our Digital Health Executive Leadership Program (alongside the HIC conference in August) and Women in Digital Health Leadership. The latter has just opened for applications until mid-April. Both programs support participants to enhance their leadership skills overall and apply those to the unique challenges of digital health.

AIDH looks forward to playing a key role in establishing guardrails and building capabilities for AI in healthcare. We will be very reliant on partnerships, our membership and the whole digital health community to do so. By working together, we can position Australia as a global leader in ethical and safe deployment.

Mark Nevin FAIDH is Interim CEO, Australasian Institute of Digital Health until 31 March, 2024. Mark was awarded a fellowship by AIDH in 2020 in recognition of his inaugural work on telehealth and AI. He has developed frameworks for the safe deployment of AI in clinical care, including standards of practice to establish parameters for governance and quality and safety and guide providers. Mark has been an active contributor to AAAIH since its inception, providing strategic policy input to its projects.

Explore similar topics

Leave a Reply

Australasia's leading voice in digital health news

Twitter X

Copyright © 2024 Pulse+IT Communications Pty Ltd. No content published on this website can be reproduced by any person for any reason without the prior written permission of the publisher. If your organisation is featured in a Pulse+IT article you can purchase the permission to reproduce the article here.
Website Design by Get Leads AU.

Australasia’s leading voice in digital health news 

Keep your finger on the pulse with full access to all articles published on
Subscribe from only $39