Department of Health investigates bias in medical devices and algorithms

The government has launched a call for evidence, seeking views and advice on how to tackle discrimination in medical devices and technology, as part of an independent medical technology review.

The call for evidence, open until October 6, 2022, aims to gather opinions from experts and organizations on the potential racial and gender biases of medical devices. The exam seeks the expertise of people who work in development and those who use medical devices such as oxygen measuring devices and infrared scanners, and related software and hardware, including basics data and instructions. This applies to the entire lifecycle of a device, from evaluation to marketing and implementation, to identify potential biases at every stage.

As part of an independent review into equity in medical devices, led by Margaret Whitehead, WH Duncan Chair of Public Health at the Department of Public Health and Policy, the government is seeking to tackle disparities in care healthcare by gathering evidence on how medical devices and technologies can harm patients of different ethnicities, genders and other socio-demographic groups.

For example, some devices using infrared light or imaging may not work as well on patients with darker skin pigmentation, which was not considered in the development and testing of the devices. .

Experts are encouraged to provide as much information as possible about medical device bias. In addition to information about the type, name, brand or manufacturer of the device, the independent review also seeks to gather as much detail as possible about the intended use of medical devices that may be discriminatory, the patient population on which they are used and how and why these devices may not be as effective or safe for all intended patient groups.

Discussing the review, Whitehead said: “We aim to establish where and how ethnic and other potential unfair biases can arise in the design and use of medical devices, and what can be done to make improvements. We especially encourage health, technology, and industry experts and researchers to share their views and any evidence regarding medical devices to help us address healthcare inequities.

Research suggests that the way some medical devices are designed and used may not take into account differences related to ethnicity, gender or other characteristics such as disabilities, potentially exacerbating existing inequalities in care. health.

While current UK regulations set out clear expectations for medical devices and technologies, they currently do not include provisions to ensure that medical devices work equally well for different groups of the population based on their social or demographic characteristics.

Health Minister Gillian Keegan said: ‘The independent review is part of our vital work to tackle inequalities in healthcare, and I invite industry to share their expertise in the call to evidence so that we can ensure that medical devices are free from any form of bias.

In addition to physical devices, the exam assesses artificial intelligence (AI) based applications used in diagnostics and for making healthcare decisions, where biases can be built into the clinical algorithms they use. The review will also look at risk scoring systems, where genomics is used to make decisions about personalized medicine.

Sharon D. Cole