Is AI the Prescription for Future Medicine?

Healthcare professionals urged to embrace AI with ethics in mind. UNAM's experts stress the importance of AI's ethical integration to enhance patient care and medical research, all while emphasizing the need for legal and data governance.

Is AI the Prescription for Future Medicine?
The need for responsible AI integration in healthcare, focusing on ethics and patient care.

In the fast-paced world of modern medicine, where the line between science fiction and reality blurs daily, it's no surprise that the healthcare industry finds itself at the crossroads of artificial intelligence (AI) and ethics. In a thought-provoking master conference titled: Artificial Intelligence, Bioethics, and Medical Education, Melchor Sanchez Mendiola, head of the Coordination of the Open University, Educational Innovation, and Distance Education at UNAM, emphasized the pressing need for healthcare professionals. From general practitioners to dentists, veterinarians, nurses, and physiotherapists, to update their skillsets and adapt to the digital age.

Samuel Ponce de León Rosales, academic coordinator of the Permanent Bioethics Seminar at UNAM, warns us that AI is a different kind of beast. Once the genie is out of the bottle, there's no putting it back. He describes our current moment as a “brutal change” for our species, one that demands the establishment of ethical laws to guide us through this uncharted territory.

This race toward AI is, according to Ponce de León, an opportunity to give healthcare professionals the precious time they need to focus on what truly matters: the patients. If AI can take care of 80 percent of the routine work and paperwork, we can divert our energies towards empathetic patient care and holistic well-being.

Mendiola, a strong advocate for AI integration in healthcare, stresses that it's an ethical and moral imperative to embrace digital tools without fear. Whether you're a seasoned healthcare professional or a newcomer to the field, these tools are here to stay. However, he acknowledges that the reckless adoption of AI in the past has led to poorly supervised and underregulated endeavors, with many so-called innovations falling short of good research and ethical standards.

Mendiola asserts that all medical research, including AI, must adhere to the strict criteria of clinical evidence and scientific rigor. It's not enough to ride the wave of technology; we must surf it responsibly and with respect for the principles of good research.

In 2010, UNAM's School of Medicine introduced a mandatory course, aimed at keeping students abreast of the latest research related to technology, which was a novel concept back then. But fast-forward to 2023, and the pandemic has only further highlighted the urgency of integrating AI into the background of healthcare professionals. The explosion of publications and applications in healthcare AI demands that professionals become educated consumers of this groundbreaking work.

Global Standards and Values

Mendiola reveals that in November 2021, UNESCO created the first global standard on AI ethics, which was embraced by 193 member states, including Mexico. These standards outline four core values that AI systems should uphold: human rights and dignity, peaceful societies, diversity and inclusion, and environmental preservation.

He also notes the existing gap in access to new technologies. Despite the potential of AI, the availability and quality of connectivity and devices still vary greatly. A Harvard study points out a vicious circle of AI, ethics, and education, while underscoring the glaring disparities in technology access.

Mendiola concludes by emphasizing the need for progress in legal aspects, data ownership, and education for both students and teachers. The road ahead also involves shaping security policies, addressing data governance, tackling algorithmic biases, and enhancing transparency.

In a world where AI is no longer a buzzword but a reality, the healthcare industry must stand at the forefront of responsible AI adoption. The ethical imperative is clear: AI should serve humanity and the environment, all while preserving individual rights, diversity, and inclusivity. The journey might be challenging, but it's a race we must run, for there's no putting the AI genie back in the bottle.