A high-standard health system, rich health data and a strong research and innovation ecosystem are Europe’s key assets that can help transform its health sector and make the EU a global leader in health-related artificial intelligence applications.
The use of artificial intelligence (AI) applications in healthcare is increasing rapidly.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, challenges linked to our ageing populations and shortages of healthcare professionals were already driving up the adoption of AI technologies in healthcare.
The pandemic has all but accelerated this trend. Real-time contact tracing apps are just one example of the many AI applications used to monitor the spread of the virus and to reinforce the public health response to it.
AI and robotics are also key for the development and manufacturing of new vaccines against COVID-19.
A fresh JRC analysis shows that European biotech companies relying on AI have been strong partners in the global race to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine.
Based on this experience, the analysis highlights the EU’s strengths in the “AI in health” domain and identifies the challenges it still has to overcome to become a global leader.
High standard health system safeguards reliability of AI health applications
Europe’s high standard health system provides a strong foundation for the roll out of AI technologies.
Its high quality standards will ensure that AI-enabled health innovations maximise benefits and minimise risks.
The JRC study suggests that, similarly to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is now considered a global reference, the EU is in a position to set the benchmark for global standards of AI in health in terms of safety, trustworthiness, transparency and liability.
The European Commission is currently preparing a comprehensive package of measures to address issues posed by the introduction of AI, including a European legal framework for AI to address fundamental rights and safety risks specific to the AI systems, as well as rules on liability related to new technologies.
Strong European research ecosystem supported by EU funding
At the moment, the EU is already well positioned in the application of AI in the healthcare domain - slightly behind China but on par with the US.
But judging from the EU’s research capacities, there is more potential.
The JRC analysis notes the strong investment of European biotech companies in research: in the EU, almost two thirds of all medical AI players are involved in research, against approximately one-third in China.
Consequently, Europe has a strong and diversified research and innovation ecosystem in the area of AI in health.
European companies are particularly strong in health diagnostics, health technology assessment, medical devices and pharmaceuticals.
The EU’s research framework programmes play an important role in the European research and innovation landscape in this domain.
A JRC report published in 2020 indicates that 146 projects linked to AI in health have been launched under the Horizon 2020 framework programme.
The funding of AI in health related projects has been increasing over time, reaching over €100 million in 2020.