AI in telemedicine: new opportunities and new ethical challenges

Where does responsibility lie when a medical chatbot wrongly interprets a patient inquiry? How should a telehealth triage app prioritise patients in a fair way? These are just examples of the new ethical challenges that are posed by AI-based apps that are currently being developed to improve telehealth capabilities.

Telehealth refers to the use of medical information and technology to advance clinical care at a distance, and is transforming the delivery of healthcare. Whilst initially slow, the adoption of telemedicine tools has been precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, where remote medical care was crucial to reduce face-to-face contact and manage demand. Even beyond the pandemic, benefits of telemedicine are well-recognized in terms of increased convenience, improved accessibility and lower cost. Now, technologists and physicians are seeking to augment and render more efficient telemedicine by designing and incorporating modules and apps that are based on Artificial Intelligence, with some evidently successful examples in terms of innovation.

However, the fast development and roll-out of these technologies means that often, potential medical and ethical pitfalls concerning the routine, long-term use of these tools have not been considered during design or implementation. While the ethical considerations for healthcare technology including telemedicine has been extensively discussed in the literature, the frameworks and principles developed so far do not consider and deepen those specific medical and ethical challenges raised by the implementation of AI apps in the precise context of telemedicine. Furthermore, a lot of the conversation has been on a very theoretical level, and fails to consider the real-world integration of these principles in the technology via the analysis of AI-based telemedicine tools currently in use.

This forthcoming paper aims to address this gap by analyzing AI-based telemedicine tools currently in use in order to revise and further develop existing ethical principles and guidelines for telemedicine. The ultimate purpose is that of providing a benchmark ethical framework that would offer clear guidance to technology providers and institutions to steer and evaluate the design and adoption of AI-based telemedicine solutions for a fair and responsible society, as well as focus on the implications for clinical practice.

Authors - University of Cambridge Branch

Sokanha Kong, Ping Jing Toong, Anmol Arora, Fazal Shah, Annabelle Monnot (Editor)


Simona Tiribelli, Institute for Technology & Global Health - Director for Ethics

This blog post was prepared by members of the Polygeia Cambridge Branch.