Event summary, My City-Lab Talk Series, /

The future does not rely on technology alone,
AI can improve healthcare services without replacing humans

Pr. Damien Gruson, Coordinator of the City-Labs project


The first meeting of the City-Labs Talk Series took place on July 9th, 2018. The event, entitled “Applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in health: to solve societal challenges or to become one?”, was organised by City-Labs team to discuss applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in health and medical laboratory and what are the key challenges ahead.

This first meeting was the stage to spur debate on the potential opportunities and challenges of AI applications into the healthcare ecosystem. On one hand, AI based systems are capable of analysing their environment and take decisions with some degree of autonomy to achieve goals. AI offers applications across a diverse set of health areas, including administrative support, lifestyle management, wearables, diagnostics and virtual assistants. On the other hand, the development and implementation of AI solutions bring along socio-economic and ethical concerns, to be addressed to build better healthcare for patients and professionals.

Mr. Costica Dumbrava, Programme Officer for EU policies in eHealth and Ageing Policy, within the Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology at the European Commission, stressed the EU’s commitment to put digital solutions at the service of its citizens and boost Europe’s competitiveness in AI. He highlighted that “AI is transforming our world as it presents new challenges that Europeans should meet to make AI work for everyone. More cooperation between citizens and the enterprises is needed to build partnerships, investments and trust”. Trust is a key word in this debate. AI’s uptake depends upon access to big data: collecting, storing, normalizing, and tracing data and patient records represent the first step for starting the AI revolution in health systems. But none of the latter is possible without patients’ trust.

As remarked by Mr Dumbrava, although sharing health data cross-border amongst healthcare settings can be beneficial to patients, there are still key issues in electronic forms, storage and sharing infrastructures across EU. Ms. Jelena Malinina, Digital Health Policy Officer, The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), stressed that there are still too many challenges to face: from the potential risk of discrimination to data breaches and hacking. Potential employers’, insurance companies’ or clients’ access to personal health data might eventually lead to discrimination. Participants also debated to what extend AI application in health could contribute to inequality or equality, depending on the tools available to finance digital innovation. As highlighted during the discussion, we must remember that AI has the potential to reduce costs and thus give possibilities to reduce inequalities in healthcare access.

The Roundtable was also enriched by the contribution of Pr. Damien Gruson, Chef du Service de Biochimie Médicale, Cliniques Universitaires Saint-Luc and Coordinator of the City-Labs project. On data sharing, he highlighted that, from basic examinations and health monitoring at home (e.g. via apps and wearable solutions) it can facilitate decision making for health institutions as to whether the patient will benefit the most from the treatment and when / if interventions are needed.  Damien Gruson also stressed that AI innovation can be enabled only if the education of healthcare professionals, literacy as well as patients’ education are supported: “if you want a better implementation of treatment and prevention strategies that work, you should improve literacy. Today in Belgium, 50 % of the population suffers from a lack of literacy regarding health and prevention issues”.

The overall discussion pointed out the disruptive potential of innovative technologies and ICT solutions, while highlighting the key role of the human factor. Healthcare professionals, health providers and patients need to be educated and empowered to be able to guide the digital revolution and fully understand the potential benefits of digital innovation. From virtual nursing to administrative workflow assistance, AI applications can improve patient experiences, boost effectiveness of therapies and meet increasing clinical demand. Many are positive about the future of AI but there are still profound questions (both legally and ethically) that policymakers need to address quickly. Doctors must understand that they won’t be replaced, and patients must know that they won’t get everything needed for their health from a machine. A human element should remain if we want to build trust on AI solutions and data-driven transformation of healthcare system and moved toward an ‘augmented intelligence’ rather than artificial one.


Please click here to see the pictures of the event.

City-Labs is a project financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) which aims to integrating the innovation of laboratory medicine and mobile health. The scope of the project is to facilitate access to laboratory tests as part of a collaborative approach to ambulatory care of a chronically ill individual, as well as to contribute to the dynamic monitoring of patients with chronic diseases.