In July 2016, the White House-sponsored Artificial Intelligence Now conference convened leading thinkers on robotics law and policy. Frank Pasquale, JD, MPhil, and professor of law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, gave a talk on automation in health care—warning about problems likely to be caused if robots prematurely replace the work of humans. His talk capped a year of speaking and writing on cutting edge topics in health information law and policy, including talks at the Food and Drug Administration, the European Medicines Agency, and the London School of Economics (with the head of NHS Digital, Britain’s leading health data authority).
[VIDEO: Watch Prof. Pasquale Present at White House-sponsored Artificial Intelligence Now Conference]
Machines are edging out the human worker with many potential consequences, including mass unemployment, Pasquale writes. But there are, of course, bright spots as machines evolve. Pasquale suggests that robotics or software are not just beneficial, but potentially lifesaving, replacing humans “for dangerous or degrading work.” Technological innovations can help collect trash, for example. But automating health industry jobs such as providing care and counseling patients and their families is another question entirely.
The current push for automation is a call-to-action for regulators, according to Pasquale: “Retarding automation that controls, stigmatizes and cheats innocent people is a vital role for 21st century regulators.” Using automation to slash prices should not be the ultimate goal of this new era of technology, Pasquale cautions: maintaining and improving quality are goals just as important. Further, Pasquale warns that the “arms race” in which competitors fight to develop the fastest and best product is not always beneficial, particularly in the field of medicine.
Medicine benefits from automation in unique ways, Pasquale says. Software has the potential to help providers diagnose illness by matching symptoms to identify a condition. It can help to avert drug interactions, examining the patient’s record to determine whether a new drug will create a reaction. Even data gathering could be greatly advanced with the deployment of personal assistants like scribes – rather than relying on already-harried health providers to develop meticulous records.
At the same time, Pasquale says, too much mechanization could have extremely damaging – even fatal – consequences in the health care industry. At present, software doesn’t have the “spontaneity, creativity, flexibility, and perceptiveness that are the hallmarks of skilled doctors and nurses,” Pasquale notes. For example, drug interaction software often marks ordinary medications as risky, “driving many doctors to distraction.”
Cautiously developing technology to improve the field of medicine while preserving the humanity of providing care will certainly cost money and time, according to Pasquale. “As professionals grapple with new forms of advice and support based on software and robots, they deserve laws and policies designed to democratize opportunities for productivity and autonomy,” he says – and he’ll be presenting that work at a conference on the professions at Princeton this December. Pasquale anticipates publishing a book he is writing on the topic, Human Automation, in 2018 (it is now under contract with Harvard University Press).
Humane Automation focuses on technology and health law policy, but Pasquale devotes time each week to examine broader developments in the field in his podcast, The Week in Health Law. Pasquale has produced nearly 70 episodes of the podcast with his co-host Nicolas Terry, LLM, executive director of the Hall Center for Law and Health at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. Recent topics of the podcast have included the Affordable Care Act and its impact on insurers, the ways health care is failing the obese, ransomware and its effect on the health care industry, drug pricing, and bioethics in reproductive technology development. The podcast is available on iTunes, Google Play Music and more.
Pasquale has also published several pieces addressing health law and policy over the past year. Reforming the Law of Reputation addresses cutting edge challenges to health privacy caused by hacking and republication of breached medical records. Health Information Law is a chapter in the prestigious volume The Oxford Handbook of American Health Law—which convened thought leaders in health law and policy to write about topics for which they are recognized experts. His piece Automating the Professions critiques efforts to prematurely robotize health and health law. And a post at Technology| Academics | Policy develops a future vision for health law and policy which is premised on prioritizing quality improvement over cost cutting.