Digital technologies in healthcare: the liability challenges

By Ben Woodfield


Digital technologies are increasingly transforming the way in which products are being made and services are being delivered. 

This is no more so than in the healthcare sector. In August 2019, the NHS set up a national artificial intelligence (AI) laboratory to enhance care of patients and research. Prior to this, there were calls from within the NHS for technology firms to help it become a world leader in the use of AI and machine learning. Indeed, over the last few years we have seen AI trialled in the NHS in clinical applications including the detection of eye disease, diagnosis of breast cancer from mammograms and in planning radiotherapy treatment for head and neck cancer. Globally, we have also seen AI trialled in areas such as identification of skin cancer from photographs and in predicting patient deterioration. Digital technologies are also being used to monitor patients (so as to facilitate discharge from in-patient care) and in operational planning contexts, such as in identifying patients that are likely to cancel appointments. 

However, if digital technologies such as AI are going to be widely used in front-line clinical services, then thought needs to be given to who is responsible, and how patients are properly compensated, if something goes wrong.