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Algorithmic fairness in Australia's healthcare: fostering inclusivity for indigenous communities

By Vince Hooper - posted Tuesday, 15 August 2023

OPINION: Algorithmic fairness in Australia's healthcare: fostering inclusivity for indigenous communities

By Dr. Vincent Hooper, Associate Professor, Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University, Saudi Arabia

In the era of rapid technological progress, algorithms have emerged as the silent architects shaping our lives and influencing our choices. However, these mechanisms that pledge efficiency and impartiality are not immune to the biases entrenched within our society. This concern is particularly pronounced in the realm of healthcare within the Australian context, where algorithmic bias could potentially result in a troubling scenario: the dominance of major healthcare entities at the expense of the well-being of Indigenous communities. To deter this unsettling trajectory, a comprehensive approach involving stakeholders, fortified by robust governance, becomes pivotal. A primary stride entails the Australian health system urgently releasing an all-encompassing white paper that addresses these issues, while also acknowledging the limitations of existing IEEE and ISO frameworks.


Algorithmic Bias: An Impending Peril

Algorithmic bias refers to the skewed outcomes produced by automated systems due to the inherent biases present in their training data. In the context of healthcare, this bias can lead to dire consequences, influencing diagnoses, treatment plans, and medical interventions. If left unaddressed, it could give rise to a two-tier healthcare system, where algorithmic decisions favor certain demographics, further deepening health disparities. The fusion of algorithmic determinations with the interests of significant healthcare corporations amplifies this concern, potentially leading to treatments and recommendations influenced more by financial gain than patient well-being.

Inclusive Solutions through Stakeholder Involvement

Combatting algorithmic bias demands an inclusive and comprehensive strategy that takes into account diverse perspectives and insights from a wide array of stakeholders. A stakeholder-driven approach not only promotes transparency but also ensures that algorithmic decisions are rooted in a broader comprehension of their real-world implications for both patients and healthcare providers.

This strategy necessitates the participation of healthcare professionals, data scientists, ethicists, regulators, Indigenous community advocates, and representatives from the healthcare industry. Involving these parties fosters a more holistic outlook, uncovering potential biases and challenging the presumptions underlying algorithmic systems.

For instance, involving representatives from Indigenous communities can uncover biases that algorithms might inadvertently perpetuate. These insights are vital to guarantee that algorithms cater to the requirements of the entire population and do not exacerbate existing inequalities.


Governance: The Pillars of Responsibility

While stakeholder engagement lays the foundation for addressing algorithmic bias, robust governance mechanisms are indispensable for implementing effective solutions. The Australian health system must take the lead in formulating regulations that govern the development, deployment, and continuous evaluation of healthcare algorithms. These regulations should encompass aspects of transparency, accountability, data privacy, and ethical considerations.

Transparency, in particular, is pivotal for holding algorithmic systems accountable. Healthcare algorithms should be designed as open systems, where the decision-making process is transparent and understandable to both medical professionals and patients. This transparency facilitates the identification of biases and fosters trust in algorithmic systems.

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About the Author

Dr Vince Hooper is an associate professor at the Prince Mohammad bin Fahd University, Saudi Arabia.

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