“AI’s gonna have an impact on everything in society, so it has to have an impact on public health”: a fundamental qualitative descriptive study of the implications of artificial intelligence for public health
BMC Public Health
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Background: Our objective was to determine the impacts of artificial intelligence (AI) on public health practice. Methods: We used a fundamental qualitative descriptive study design, enrolling 15 experts in public health and AI from June 2018 until July 2019 who worked in North America and Asia. We conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews, iteratively coded the resulting transcripts, and analyzed the results thematically. Results: We developed 137 codes, from which nine themes emerged. The themes included opportunities such as leveraging big data and improving interventions; barriers to adoption such as confusion regarding AI’s applicability, limited capacity, and poor data quality; and risks such as propagation of bias, exacerbation of inequity, hype, and poor regulation. Conclusions: Experts are cautiously optimistic about AI’s impacts on public health practice, particularly for improving disease surveillance. However, they perceived substantial barriers, such as a lack of available expertise, and risks, including inadequate regulation. Therefore, investment and research into AI for public health practice would likely be beneficial. However, increased access to high-quality data, research and education regarding the limitations of AI, and development of rigorous regulation are necessary to realize these benefits.