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Diplomat hosts conference about AI’s growing impact on healthcare

Diplomat hosts conference about AI’s growing impact on healthcare
The Diplomat Health Conference was held at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Total Health in Washington, D.C.

Artificial intelligence has the potential to revolutionize healthcare—for example, reducing the waiting time for a breast cancer diagnosis from days or weeks to less than 30 minutes. But AI also raises “grave concerns,” warns Godfrey Xuereb, Malta’s ambassador to the United States.

“We can now use AI for predictive analysis. Very few people can grasp the long-term effects of noncommunicable diseases,” said Xuereb, who spent 25 years at the World Health Organization. “Talk to a 16-year-old and say, ‘you know, if you eat unhealthy now, when you’re 50 you might have diabetes.’ Predictive analysis is a very strong tool in disease prevention, and AI can help identify at-risk population groups that could benefit most from direct healthcare interventions.”

On the other hand, if medical records get into the wrong hands, the fallout could be severe.

Maltese Ambassador Godfrey C. Xuereb spent 22 years working for the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization before assuming his current post.

Vivian Tan, vice-president for strategic information at Kaiser Permanente (KP), said such records are highly prized by nefarious entities on the dark web. In fact, while credit-card information sells for pennies online, a patient’s medical records can command $50 or more.

For this reason, the 27-member European Union has enacted stringent rules regarding online privacy, said Dutch Ambassador Birgitta Tazelaar.

“The US is a little more advanced when it comes to actually using AI in health. In Europe, we defined the boundaries so we can be sure data is ethically used and protected,” Tazelaar said. “Now that the fences are there, it’s time to innovate and catch up with the United States. The potential is obviously there.”

Dutch Ambassador Birgitta Tazelaar.

Tan and the two European ambassadors were among nine panelists who spoke at a May 9 event organized by The Washington Diplomat and co-sponsored by KP, Glass Health and Microsoft.

The annual Diplomat Health Conference took place at KP’s Center for Total Health on Capitol Hill, and explored the growing influence of AI and other technologies on the delivery and overall advancement of healthcare. It’s an especially timely topic; in 2023, the US healthcare industry spent $20 billion on AI; by 2030, annual expenditures will reach $188 billion.

Following introductory remarks by Karin Cooke, director of KP International, and Washington Diplomat Publisher Victor Shiblie, was a panel—“Successful Population Health Outcomes” featuring Xuereb and Tan, as well as Dr. Bruce Wollman, associate medical director at KP, and Steve Posnack, deputy national coordinator for health information technology at the Department of Health and Human Services.

From left: Panel moderator Eric Ham; Microsoft’s Dr. William Weeks; Dr. Ainsley MacLean, chief information officer at Kaiser Permanente; Steve Posnack, deputy national coordinator for health information technology at HHS; Marcelo D’Agostino of PAHO; Maltese Ambassador Godfrey C. Xuereb; Dutch Ambassador Brigitta Tazelaar, and Washington Diplomat Publisher Victor Shiblie.

“America spends more on healthcare than any country in the G20” but has the poorest health outcomes in the group, said Wollman said during the panel, which was moderated by local journalist Eric Ham.

As the field grows more advanced and AI plays a larger role in healthcare, the need to secure medical information will become more critical. Tan said KP already invests billions annually in ensuring the safety of its patients’ most sensitive data.

Panelists offered examples of how new technologies are shaping healthcare around the world.

Steve Posnack, deputy national coordinator for health information technology at HHS.

Dr. Ainsley MacLean, KP’s chief medical information officer, announced the launch of a new breast cancer trial that incorporates AI as an additional screener of data. Posnack discussed how AI distills medical records and makes those records available across sectors, reducing red tape and allowing easier access to the appropriate specialists. He also urged greater use of technology that automatically notifies patients of the various healthcare services available to them.

Xuereb called for an “all of society approach” to ensure that at-risk communities and rural areas are connected to the latest medical advancements. He also urged preventive care through extensive education targeting youth. This approach, he said, encompasses not just government agencies but also pharmaceutical companies, food producers, NGOs and others.

Other participants included Dr. Marcelo D’Agostino, WHO’s unit chief of information systems and digital health, and Dr. William Weeks, director of AI for health research at Microsoft. D’Agostino noted AI’s limits, especially when it comes to data breakdowns or the lack of reliable energy sources. This is a particular problem in unstable areas such as Ukraine, Haiti and West Africa.

MacLean touched on the growing shortage of doctors and other healthcare professionals, suggesting that AI could help bridge that gap. Tazelaar said the problem is more acute in Europe.

“Currently in the Netherlands, we need one in four people to work in healthcare, but we only have one in six available,” the ambassador explained. “So you can imagine what AI can do in terms of reducing the administrative burden, and also for clinical diagnosis.”


Eric Ham