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NHS AI Lab backs projects using AI on racial inequalities in healthcare

20/10/21

Mark Say Managing Editor

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The NHS AI Lab and the Health Foundation charity have awarded £1.4 million to four projects using artificial intelligence to address racial and ethnic health inequalities.

Digital icons over doctor holding tablet computer

It comes from the partnership between the lab’s AI Ethics Initiative and the foundation to manage a research competition, supported by the National Institute for Health Research, to develop the use of AI for relevant issues.

The four projects, which are subject to contract, include one led by the University of Westminster to raise the take-up of screening for sexually transmitted infections and HIV among minority ethnic communities through an automated AI chatbot providing advice. The research will extend to the wider use of chatbots for minority populations in public health.

Loughborough University will run an initiative to use AI to improve the investigation of factors contributing to adverse maternity incidents amongst mothers from different ethnic groups. It will be aimed at making it easier to design interventions that are targeted and more effective for these groups.

St George’s, University of London and Moorfields Eye Hospital aims to ensure that AI technologies that detect diabetic retinopathy will work for all groups, by validating the performance of AI retinal image analysis systems that will be used in the NHS Diabetic Eye Screening Programme (DESP) in different subgroups of the population.

The project will also evaluate the perceptions, acceptability and expectations of healthcare professionals and people with diabetes, in relation to the application of AI systems within the North East London NHS DESP.

The other project, led by University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, will focus on STANDING Together, an international consensus process to develop standards for datasets underpinning AI systems. It will be aimed at ensuring the datasets are diverse, inclusive and can support development of AI systems which work across all demographic groups.

Profound impact

Josh Keith, senior fellow at the Health Foundation said: “Data driven technology is having a profound impact on our health and health care system, but we need to focus on making sure the impacts are positive, so that everyone’s health and care benefits.

"We hope the projects being supported through this partnership can make an important contribution to this – helping ensure the advancement of AI driven technologies improves health outcomes for minority ethnic populations in the UK.”

Brhmie Balaram, head of AI research and ethics at NHSX – within which the NHS AI Lab works – said: “We're excited to support innovative projects that demonstrate the power of applying AI to address some of our most pressing challenges. In this case, we're keen to prove that AI can potentially be used to close gaps in minority ethnic health outcomes.

"Artificial intelligence has the potential to revolutionise care for patients, and we are committed to ensuring that this potential is realised for all patients by accounting for the health needs of diverse communities."

Launched in March, the AI Ethics Initiative at NHSX kicked off with three initial projects, including the competition on AI and Racial and Ethnic Health Inequalities.

The Initiative is also exploring addressing algorithmic risks, in partnership with the Ada Lovelace Institute, and is working with Health Education England to empower healthcare professionals to make the most of AI.

Image from iStock, metamorworks

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