How can technology improve patient care

What AI means for medicine

Artificial intelligence, or AI for short, is such a thing: On the one hand, we are fascinated to see how computers and machines learn by themselves and adapt their behavior without human intervention. They are getting better and better and are sometimes already superior to us - just a few days ago a computer defeated five poker pros for the first time at once. In chess, the quintessential mental exercise, the human versus machine duel has been one of the classics for years.

It is important to use this potential, also in the field of medicine, where many treatment methods are getting better and better through the use of intelligent software. Regardless of whether it is apps for the early detection of diseases or personalized cancer therapies: intelligent systems expand the possibilities of the medical profession considerably.

On the other hand, there are still a few challenges that AI brings with it. Is it ethical to listen to a machine on sensitive questions about life and death? What framework do we specify so that technology always serves people - and not the other way around?

Federal Research Minister Anja Karliczek has now discussed these and similar questions in a round with experts. Specifically, it was about how AI can support medicine.

Here is a summary of the most important questions and answers.

What are the possibilities of AI in medicine?

AI refers to a whole range of methods and technologies - which is why the fields of application for artificial intelligence are very broad and diverse. AI can offer us excellent support in many areas. Be it in everyday life, with scientific questions or in operational processes. This is particularly true when analyzing large amounts of data and searching for patterns or when supporting decisions in very complex situations. Let's think, for example, of the evaluation of scientific data or the topic of autonomous driving.

In medicine, AI can be of vital help to doctors and medical staff. With the use of artificial intelligence methods, patient care can be improved and the medical staff can be relieved. At the same time, we want to secure Germany as an innovation location with innovative approaches.

A specific application is the support in the evaluation of medical image recordings. In an example from the German Cancer Research Center and the Heidelberg University Dermatology Clinic, it has already been shown that AI can deliver very good results in the detection of black skin cancer. AI acts here as a digital assistant, the decision about diagnosis and possible therapy is made - and this is very important - but still the human being, in this case the dermatologist.

What are the requirements for successful AI applications in medicine?

In all of medicine, data is an important basis for unlocking the possibilities of AI. In some areas, such as imaging, data is already available in a structured manner. In the area of ​​routine medical care, work is currently underway to ensure that data can be recorded and processed as comprehensively and in a structured manner as possible. With the medical informatics initiative, the BMBF aims to bring together data from patient care and research and to make it usable for the various uses.

In addition to the quality and compatibility of the different data, the use of AI in medicine also raises social, legal and ethical questions. Specifically, it is about data protection, for example, but also about overarching topics such as responsibility and transparency. Against this background, the BMBF is funding research projects on ethical, legal and social aspects (ELSA) of digitization, big data and artificial intelligence in health research and care, particularly in the ELSA funding priority. This makes an active contribution to the science-based processing of the issues raised and societal challenges.

The aim is always to research the possibilities and effects of AI in an interdisciplinary manner. For example, with the “Learning Systems” platform, the BMBF brings together leading experts from science, business, politics and civil society organizations to discuss the opportunities, challenges and framework conditions for development and responsible use.

What framework conditions does AI need?

The basic framework conditions are created with the "Artificial Intelligence Strategy" of the Federal Government. As an innovative tool, AI must be available to scientists, companies and users to answer their questions and solve their problems. We ensure that the required specialists are trained and that specialists already in work can expand their skills.

Experiment rooms are needed to test alternative applications of AI. Products and services can be improved using artificial intelligence. Successful examples are important incentives to try out AI yourself, to dare to try something new or to transfer certain solution concepts into a broader application.

The medical informatics initiative of the BMBF aims, among other things, to bring together data from patient care and research. This creates central prerequisites for making this data accessible to AI at all. Be it for analyzes on these databases or to use them as training data for machine learning. In addition to the quality and compatibility of the different data, questions about patient consent, data protection and data security also play a central role.