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AI Executive Order Directs Health Agencies to Address Safety Concerns

Within 90 days of the order, the Department of Health and Human Services must establish an AI task force.

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President Joe Biden signing executive order
Photo Credit: White House via Youtube

The Biden-Harris Administration issued a landmark executive order on Monday that outlines best standards and practices to assure the safe, secure and trustworthy use of artificial intelligence. The comprehensive strategy establishes the first set of standards for AI use throughout the healthcare ecosystem.

The order builds on previous administration efforts like the AI Bill of Rights to drive safe, secure and trustworthy development of AI. During the executive order signing ceremony, Biden described the order as “the most significant action, any government anywhere in the world has ever taken on AI safety, security and trust.”

The plan calls on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to create a safety program that will receive reports, analyze harmful AI-related health care practices and develop resources to establish AI educational tools. In addition, the order also pushes for the advancement of the responsible use of AI during the development of life-saving drugs.

Dr. Heather Ross, clinical associate professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation at Arizona State University, said that AI puts several key interests at stake including national security, economic development and individual safety.

“The executive order is an important tool to direct attention to AI development, both by signaling that it is a federal priority and by directing the use of federal resources to the work,” Ross said in an interview with GovCIO Media and Research. “The challenge here is to make policy that will be relevant and supportive to each of those competing interests in both the short-term future and the long-term future, even as the technology itself continues to evolve.”

With urgency in mind, the order gives HHS a 180-day timeline to provide a strategy on if AI technologies in the health sector can “maintain appropriate levels of quality.” For health care agencies, these priorities are essential as patient safety and privacy are on the line.

The order also calls for collaboration across the nation’s largest health care systems. Within 90 days, the secretary of HHS, the secretary of the veteran affairs and the secretary of the defense, must create an HHS AI Task Force. One year following its creation, the task force will outline a plan that informs the responsible, “deployment and use of AI and AI-enabled technologies in the health and human services sector (including research and discovery, drug and device safety, healthcare delivery and financing, and public health).”

“Our team is hard at work exploring how AI can help VA make better, faster, and more-informed decisions — improving Veteran health outcomes and benefits decisions while eliminating redundant administrative tasks. AI solutions can also help us reduce the time that clinicians spend on non-clinical work, which will get our clinicians doing more of what they love most: caring for Veterans,” said a Veteran Affairs spokesperson in a statement to GovCIO Media and Research.

Many experts are concerned about the immediate and long-term threats that AI could cause throughout the health care ecosystem.

“At the end of the day, what the federal government does with healthcare AI governance now will either improve health equity or create bias-driven harm that threatens the health of vulnerable populations and, ultimately, the future of the United States,” said Ross.

“We already know that AI systems impose significant civil rights dangers in areas like health care and housing and hiring. In these areas and others, the president directs the development of new standards to manage these ethics,” said White House Special Advisor Ben Buchanan during a virtual White House press briefing on Monday.

While the executive order puts standards and policies in place for health care agencies, the White House says they have no plans to stifle the innovation of AI.

“[The] President believes deeply that we need to have a dynamic, innovative and competitive AI ecosystem,” Buchanan said.

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