Lukewarm DoHAC response to AI Roadmap – in public, at least

4 minute read

The Department is ‘welcoming and supportive’ without endorsing any of the 16 recommendations.

The Department of Health and Aged Care has responded to last week’s launch of the National Policy Roadmap for AI in Healthcare but stopped short of endorsing any of the specific recommendations in the document.

The roadmap, developed by the Australian Alliance for Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare and other collaborators, presents 16 recommendations, chief among them the establishment of a National AI in Healthcare Council, minimum safety and quality standards and a plan for communicating the need for caution around generative AI.

“[The DoHAC] will not be surprised to see the roadmap,” said Professor Enrico Coiera, founder of the AAAIH.

“What they think about it, and what they choose to do about it are a separate thing.”

A spokesperson for DoHAC told TMR that it “welcomes” the launch of the roadmap and “supports the work of the AAAIH”.

“Our department is working towards frameworks that support all Australians to receive the safest, most effective, and most economical treatment possible from our future healthcare system as part of a cohesive, whole-of-government approach to AI,” said the spokesperson.

When asked which of the roadmap’s 16 recommendations the Department saw as short-term priorities, the spokesperson said:

“Elements of the recommendations are already in train as part of work being undertaken by the Artificial Intelligence in Government Taskforce and our department.

“As a department, we are engaging closely with Minister Ed Husic’s portfolio, the AI Taskforce and ensuring an aligned working relationship between the Department of Industry, Science and Resources (DISER) and our department.

“The department is involved in these conversations and is one of the 11 APS agencies who form the AI Taskforce.

“The current AI Taskforce workplan is mapped to February 2024. It will deliver a program of work over the immediate, medium- and long-term.”

The DoHAC spokesperson said AI technologies were “not new for the department”.

“The technology is rapidly expanding and now is the right time to work together across government for the harnessing the potential and safeguarding from the identified risks,” the spokesperson said.

“The TGA already regulates software including software that incorporates AI when the product is intended for medical use (i.e. when the software is used to diagnose, treat, monitor, predict, prevent, or alleviate a disease, injury or disability).

“The regulations are software and hardware agnostic and apply to apps, online or cloud-based services and some clinical decision support systems.? The TGA has approved more than 80 products that incorporate AI.

“The government identified investing in responsible AI as a critical technology industry and committed $41.2 million in the 2023–24 Budget, through the Industry and Science Portfolio, to support the responsible deployment of AI in the national economy. This includes supporting the National Artificial Intelligence Centre to strengthen AI governance and industry capability.

“DoHAC, through the Medical Research Future Fund, is providing $650 million over 10?years from 2022–23 towards national critical research infrastructure to increase Australia’s capacity to conduct health and medical research.

“The?initiative will establish and extend infrastructure (facilities, equipment, systems and services) of critical importance that will be used to conduct world-class health and medical research.

“The digitisation of healthcare stream will focus on developing and translating into practice digital therapeutics, AI-enabled health interventions and technologies (e.g. wearables), applications or other software for use in clinical practice.”

The DoHAC spokesperson said the department would continue to work with other government agencies and the sector “to ensure alignment with current and future strategic priorities”.

Professor Coiera said the roadmap was “an opportunity for government to open up its engagement now with the community”.

“I would love to see some real commitment in the next budget to make some things happen in this area,” he said. 

“We can only keep on meeting and talking. The encouragement I’ve heard is that nobody is saying it’s the wrong idea at the wrong time. Effectively we’re hearing the opposite. So I’m positive from that perspective.”

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