In response to disproportionate COVID-19 deaths among ethnic minority groups in the United Kingdom, the British government has ordered a probe into racial bias creeping into medical devices and AI-based tools, according to a press release issued by the UK Department of Health and Social Care. The probe will also look into the risk of bias in AI-based tools and initial findings will be shared by January 2022, the release added.
UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that he is also working on putting out international standards to mandate racial testing of medical devices before they are sold, in an interview with the BBC. The decision comes after research showed that pulse oximeters, which gauge blood oxygen levels, were less accurate on people with darker skin, the Sunday Times reported.
As reliance on medical devices becomes more widespread, unintentional but life-threatening technological biases need to be addressed. This is especially true for India where a significant share of medical devices and tools are reportedly imported or designed in western parts of the world.
India’s policies on medical devices and health-focused AI tools
In India, there is excessive reliance on medical device standards and certifications from the US and UK, said KL Sharma, former Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, in a Scroll interview. Currently, medical devices are notified under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940; however, Sharma recommended that the government update the list and bring in specific regulations for medical devices.
The government is planning to come out with a new law to regulate medical devices, among other things, according to a report in the Times of India. An eight-member panel, headed by the Drugs Controller General of India has been constituted to recommend a draft bill by November 30.
Use of AI under ABDM: Even the National Digital Health Mission, now known as the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM), mentions the adoption of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and blockchain going forward. One of the use cases under the nationwide health digitisation project mentions “health bots” that will look at citizens’ medical history, send reminders, provide advice based on health trends, and support doctors in managing chronic care.
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