Protecting patients in the age of big data, AI: 3 things radiologists should consider

As radiology continues to embrace big data and artificial intelligence (AI), specialists can’t forget that they are still responsible for the safety and well-being of their patients, according to a new analysis published by the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

“Radiologists have a fiduciary responsibility to protect the interest of their patients,” wrote Nabile M. Safdar, MD, MPH, with the department of radiology and imaging sciences at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, and colleagues. “The community of radiology leaders, ethicists, and informaticists must have a conversation about the appropriate way to deal with these issues and help lead the way in developing capabilities in the most just, ethical manner possible.”

Safdar et al. wrote at length about the role radiologists must play in the development and implementation of “big data analytics, AI and personalized medicine in imaging.” These are three key points made in their analysis:

1. Privacy and confidentiality remain incredibly important—and making data anonymous just isn’t enough.

More and more data are being created every day, and improvements in processing power mean that data hardly ever have to be deleted. But as specialists and various technologies use all of this data, radiologist must remember their role in keeping patients’ data safe.

“As the breadth of the collected data and their analyses continue to increase rapidly, these data are being housed electronically in perpetuity, which increases the risk for privacy violations,” the authors wrote. “Additionally, anonymization of the data does not ensure against individuals’ being identified subsequently through the joining of data sets and reidentification, manipulation of the data causing discrimination, or other improper use.

2. Healthcare providers may need to reassess how they get consent from patients. 

How are you getting consent from patients to use their data? And what if they don’t give it? Safdar and colleagues pointed out that providers should discuss the answers to those questions to make sure they are treating the patients, and their data, as they should. 

“Your system, hospital or practice should review and accordingly revise its initial intake and consent regime to consider possible big data and artificial intelligence uses of patient data,” the authors wrote.

3. Radiologists should lead efforts to create a “patient bill of rights”

If radiologists wish to be viewed as leaders in the development and implementation of big data and AI, the authors noted, they should lead the conversation about “the ethical use of these methods” as well.

By working with other specialists to develop a “patient bill of rights,” for instance, radiologists could take the lead in a key area that would protect patients. The authors say three key points would need to be addressed by any such bill of rights:

  • Patient imaging data needs the best security possible.
  • Patients should know what their imaging data will be used for.
  • Patients should know that their imaging data “will not be used to harm them or a group to which they belong.”