Viewpoint: AI is still years away from transforming oncology

Despite regular headlines and study findings claiming that artificial intelligence is already revolutionizing healthcare, in actuality, there is still much to be done before the technology has a real impact on routine clinical practice.

In an editorial published Oct. 1, the editors of Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology describe the challenges that must still be addressed before AI use becomes widespread in healthcare, and specifically in oncology. One such challenge is a lack of standards in the development of AI tools, which will be solved primarily through "collaboration among regulatory bodies, technology developers and clinical staff," per the journal's editors.

Another challenge is posed by the cost of advanced technology. Though many proponents of AI claim the new solutions will only be pricey at first, before becoming eventually more affordable over time, their implementation will still require both outright funding and potentially costly training and upskilling efforts. As a result, "widespread access to AI-based healthcare might not happen in the near future," they wrote.

One final challenge comes from the prevailing idea that automation will provide clinicians with much more time for face-to-face patient interactions. More likely, however, AI will be used to ameliorate staff shortages, keeping clinicians' schedules much the same. Additionally, patients may feel that the use of AI in the clinical setting is more of a disruption than a facilitator of productive interactions.

In conclusion, the journal's editors wrote, "the practical implications of using AI in routine oncology practice are not yet completely understood." Its adoption will require not only solutions to the aforementioned challenges and further research describing AI's benefits, but also "multidisciplinary expertise and, more importantly, the input of patients and their families and the cooperation of regulatory bodies."

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