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Using AI Ethically in Healthcare Is Our Responsibility

Imagine having the ability to take a photo of the inside of a human eye and have a computer tell you if that person is at risk of Alzheimer’s disease or a stroke.

Thanks to recent developments in artificial intelligence (AI), that possibility is on the near horizon.

AI is poised to help healthcare professionals more accurately diagnose disease, determine the right treatments, and ultimately provide better care for patients. But it isn’t magic.

Applying AI — in any field — means we’re training machines to solve problems and make decisions based on data sets. In the context of medicine, it relies on enormous amounts of healthcare data from the general population — you and I likely included.

The potential loss of control over our most sensitive medical information may sound frightening. But the risks to privacy are within our ability to manage, and the potential for AI to save lives is too vast to ignore.

Researchers recently unveiled a revolutionary new method for detecting COVID-19 using AI. The process, developed at the Terasaki Institute for Biomedical Innovation in Southern California, applies an AI model to images of the lungs. The technology can identify symptoms that a human doctor cannot detect on their own.

These developments are just one current example of how AI can change the landscape of medicine.

In a 2021 studyTrusted Source, researchers applied AI to data from lung cancer patients to more accurately predict individual outlooks.

In another recent study, scientists in France used an AI program to accurately detect lung nodules, identifying malignant lesions up to a year before a radiologist could. And the earlier cancer is detected, the earlier it can be treated, and the better the outcomes.

These results suggest that AI could help doctors screen for lung cancer in the not-too-distant future.

However, AI can do more than see diseases where humans can’t. In the realm of disease, it can help stratify risks, help prevent infection, and detect disease spread throughout the body. Researchers are also starting to apply AI to devise personalized cancer treatments based on a patient’s DNA.

However, empowering algorithms to influence choices about our health comes with some risk, of course. We’ve seen enough corporate data breaches to know how quickly information can be stolen or misused.

Then there’s the fact that poorly designed AI, trained on data that doesn’t accurately reflect a patient population, can replicate humans’ own worst discriminatory behavior.

But we know enough about the risks to alleviate them proactively. For example, we now know we must train AI using data sets that reflect our actual demographics, in all their diversity.

And we must make sure patient data is truly anonymized when it needs to be.

On the other hand, AI cannot work well without a significant volume of data. Collecting the level of data we need for AI to deliver on its promise requires building trust across the healthcare community.

Here’s how we can build that trust.

First, doctors and other medical professionals should remain the final decision-makers at every step of the patient’s journey, from diagnosis with the help of AI to treatment and follow-up based on AI recommendations. AI should inform our choices, not make the final calls.

Second, we should use AI to complement, not replace, the work human healthcare professionals do best. An ideal use case for AI is completing repetitive, abstract medical work, like documentation and data analysis.

Freed from this work, healthcare professionals can get back to the core of practicing medicine: interacting one-on-one with patients, listening, and making empathetic decisions.

Finally, the benefits of AI must be shared widely, not reserved for the privileged. AI should be the guide in advancing equity. We can use AI to identify communities in need of specialized care, then find the best ways of delivering that care outside the walls of a hospital or clinic.

Merely having access to data doesn’t make us smarter. As humans, we’re fully capable of applying the technology we invent in unethical or ill-thought-out ways. But the promise of AI is immense. The task before us now is to apply it well.Philip Morris International met with the Food and Drug Administration on Friday afternoon to present its argument for why the tobacco giant and Altria should be allowed to import and sell Iqos devices in the U.S., CNBC has learned.

A person familiar with the company’s meeting said Philip Morris told the FDA that Iqos is unique, both in its design and ability to convert smokers. Additionally, the company is arguing that the U.S. International Trade Commission overstepped its bounds, given that the FDA is in charge of regulating which tobacco products and alternatives can be sold, this person said.

The meeting with regulators is the latest development in a patent dispute with rival R.J. Reynolds, a subsidiary of British American Tobacco. In late September, the ITC ruled that the Iqos device infringed on two of Reynolds’ patents. The Biden administration is conducting a 60-day administrative review until Nov. 29 to decide if the sale and import of the cigarette alternative will be banned.

Altria launched the Iqos device in the United States two years ago, but it began development of the product more than a decade ago before Philip Morris International was spun off from the company. The device heats tobacco without burning it, which is meant to give users the same rush of nicotine without as many toxins as smoking a cigarette.

Philip Morris sells the device in dozens of international markets and has granted Altria a license to sell it in the U.S. While Iqos don’t represent a large portion of Altria’s U.S. business, it’s part of the company’s shift away from traditional tobacco products, which have seen falling demand.

The U.S. Trade Representative will make a recommendation to President Joe Biden after listening to input from a number of agencies, including the FDA, which regulates tobacco products.

“The presidential review process can disapprove of the ITC’s final determination on a few counts, and we believe there is a pretty strong case for that,” said Deepak Mishra, head of Philip Morris International’s Americas region, in an interview with CNBC Thursday.

The company’s argument to keep selling Iqos includes the public health benefit of the device. Altria said it counts 20,000 U.S. consumers as users of the device, and say they could revert back to cigarettes if Iqos disappears from shelves.

“We are pretty convinced that the vast majority will go back to smoking cigarettes,” Mishra said. ”… It actually comes close to the taste and ritual of a cigarette, which is why we have a very strong conversion of smokers that switch to Iqos.”

Mishra said this was an argument the company planned to make as it urges the Biden administration to overturn the ITC ruling.

The next step in the administrative review is a Trade Policy Staff Committee meeting, which will likely happen this week, the person familiar with the meeting said. The group includes a number of federal agencies, including the FDA, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Commerce.

If the administration sides with R.J. Reynolds in the dispute, Iqos could be off of U.S. shelves for months as it waits for a decision on a separate claim from Reynolds with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, according to Mishra. That process is expected to take another six to 12 months, but Mishra said the company is more optimistic about the outcome given its success in similar cases outside the United States. British American Tobacco has already pursued similar legal action against Philip Morris in 11 international markets and the European Patent Office.

In the worst case scenario for Altria and Philip Morris, the two companies would have to go back to the drawing board, moving production to the U.S. or changing up the design enough to avoid patent infringement claims.

“Infringement of our intellectual property undermines our ability to invest and innovate and thereby reduce the health impact of our business,” Reynolds American spokesperson Kaelan Hollon said in a statement when the ITC ruled in its favor. “We will therefore defend our IP robustly across the globe.”

Shares of Philip Morris have climbed 12% this year, giving it a market value of $145 billion. Altria’s stock is up 9% in the same time, raising its market value to $83.1 billion.

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