The potential of AI has led to developments in healthcare, with some studies suggesting image recognition technology based on machine learning algorithms can classify skin cancers as successfully as human experts.
NHS trusts have begun exploring AI to help dermatologists triage patients with skin lesions. But researchers say more needs to be done to ensure the technology benefits all patients, after finding that few freely available image databases that could be used to develop or "train" AI systems for skin cancer diagnosis contain information on ethnicity or skin type. Those that do have very few images of people with dark skin.
Dr. David Wen, the first author of the study from the University of Oxford, said: "You could have a situation where the regulatory authorities say that because this algorithm has only been trained on images in fair-skinned people, you're only allowed to use it for fair-skinned individuals, and therefore that could lead to certain populations being excluded from algorithms that are approved for clinical use.
Alternatively, if the regulators are a bit more relaxed and say: 'OK, you can use it [on all patients]', the algorithms may not perform as accurately on populations who don't have that many images involved in training."
That could bring other problems including risking avoidable surgery, missing treatable cancers, and causing unnecessary anxiety, the team said.