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Putting patients at the heart of artificial intelligence

Simon Gillespie

Simon Gillespie, CEO of the British Heart Foundation knows just how important it is to listen to the voices of patients – that is why the British Heart Foundation has supported the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Heart and Circulatory Diseases’ inquiry into patient perspectives on the use of artificial intelligence in healthcare.

  • Digital health and care

Patients’ voices matter. Without them, medical advances risk leaving behind the very people they hope to help. Nowhere is this truer than in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), a fast-moving area of health technology which has the potential to transform lives and beat the heartbreak of conditions like coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and vascular dementia. AI is a set of computer actions that mimic human intelligence, by doing activities like learning and problem solving. It offers huge possibilities for the prevention, treatment and management of a range of heart and circulatory conditions because it allows us to analyse large data sets and come to conclusions faster and more accurately than ever before. AI can be used to make diagnoses, plan personalised treatments, improve triaging of demand and make better predictions. But there are risks: the APPG’s inquiry found that the speed at which AI has been developing over the last decade has made it challenging for policy makers and healthcare professionals to ensure that patients are meaningfully engaged with and informed about AI. This means it is vulnerable to misunderstanding and misinformation.

Past examples demonstrate that public opinion has the ability to derail scientific advances. Despite the potential benefits of genetically modified (GM) foods, public mistrust led to a culture of fear, which persists today. The BHF recognises this, and so we’re proud to have supported an inquiry by the APPG on Heart and Circulatory Diseases’ to better understand patient perspectives on AI. The inquiry sought to place patients’ voices at the forefront by listening to their views and concerns about AI.

What did we find?

The APPG’s inquiry involved a literature review, roundtable discussions with patients, policy makers, cardiologists, researchers and industry representatives, and a patient survey. It found that AI has the potential to improve outcomes for people with heart and circulatory diseases in numerous ways, from prevention, to treatment, to follow-up care.

Findings from the survey, roundtables and interviews with experts in the field are presented in ‘Putting patients at the heart of artificial intelligence’. The report highlights how important it is to follow developments in AI with meaningful patient engagement. Our evidence found that engagement, information and awareness-raising are key to improving public understanding about AI. Patients told us that this is what they need – and it’s imperative that we listen to their voices.

The patients we spoke to were overwhelmingly in support of AI, with 85% supporting its use in diagnostics and treatment. And they were even more united in their belief that the public should be informed about its use – 91% thought this should happen. But a vast majority (83%) were unaware of any current cases of artificial intelligence being used in the diagnostics and treatment of heart disease – showing how much more needs to be done to inform and include patients in these discussions. As a patient representative put it:

“The potential for predicting ailments is just phenomenal. Surely the public has to be made aware of that?”

With so much exciting work going on, there isn’t much reason not to talk about it. For instance, the BHF are funding Dr Declan O’Regan and his team at Imperial College London, who are working to find out if AI techniques can accurately predict the future prognosis of people with heart failure. The team are using AI to interpret thousands of heart scans to build a 3D heart before ‘training’ the computer to recognise the earliest signs of heart failure – something which could eventually lead to personalised treatments.

Looking to the future

Our inquiry demonstrates just how vital it is that patient voices are listened to. That’s why the APPG recommends that organisations like NHS England, NHSX (the new digital arm of the health service), Understanding Patient Data and NICE ensure that they engage meaningfully with patients on the subject of AI. Along with advocates like National Voices, the BHF will continue to ensure that patients are placed at the heart of AI.