Artificial intelligence (AI) and its tentative but uneasy entrance into the healthcare market took central focus at the World Economic Forum (WEF) during an expert discussion.

AI has been a major focus at this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, with discussions taking place about its growing presence in all sectors including healthcare.

In the 17 January panel entitled: ‘Fixing healthcare digitally’, Axios’ Sara Kehaulani Goo chaired a discussion featuring Mayo Clinic president Gianrico Farrugia and CEO of Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Christophe Weber. The Rwandan minister of information communication technology and innovation, Paula Ingabire and European Commissioner (EC) for health and food safety, Stella Kyriakides also joined.

The panel explored how AI’s implementation in clinical trials and administrative tasks is becoming extremely attractive to healthcare companies but a fundamental issue is whether or not AI can be trusted to produce reliable results.

Starting proceedings, Gianrico Farrugia said: “What used to be a forward-looking question is no longer a forward-looking question. AI has transformed healthcare. It has transformed our ability to produce different outcomes, to increase productivity and it has opened up ways to scale in a way we could not do before.

“For the Mayo Clinic, we have about 200 different algorithms that run every day in our practice, but increasingly we find other health organisations saying the same thing.”

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Takeda’s Christophe Weber highlighted how generative AI could result in an overall efficiency gain of 30% when it comes to the company’s clinical trials division, as well as manufacturing, enabling the company to discover new molecules and  therapies.

EC member Stella Kyriakides, however, argued that it would be possible to embrace the benefits of AI when it comes to pushing healthcare advances and discovery, but that should come with potential guardrails, suggesting something akin to the European Union’s current AI regulation act which is under review.

Turning away from AI, Paula Ingabire detailed the success of Rwandan start-up: Zipline, a company that uses drones to optimise delivery between rural villages and towns, backed by the Rwandan government.

Ingabire said: “They [Zipline] had a proposal and we had the challenge of close to 500 healthcare facilities, some in very rural areas where road access was still a challenge.

“We would have needed to think about things like cold-room storage and road access for every facility, and when you look at all of those investments and how long it would have taken us, Zipline offered a solution for this challenge. So now we call this a proof of concept country. We started with blood, but now we are able to deliver health products to hospitals across the country in as short as 20 minutes, and this is an on-demand service.”

Returning to AI, Farrugia argued that when it comes to  implementation in healthcare there needs to be a clear understanding between what is healthy scepticism and what instead constitutes cynicism.

Farrugia said: “You have to make sure that there is both the ability to validate, but also the ability to self-regulate as you participate in more global regulation [of AI].

“Making sure that there are systems in place that are a 3rd party to ensure that AI is fit for purpose as a digital tool and that it does what it says it is going to do. Self-regulation is very important.”