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In autumn 2020, Associate Professor Aiden Doherty was invited to be an expert contributor to a forthcoming POSTnote ‘AI and Healthcare.’ Here, he reflects on the experience, and why it is important that researchers actively engage with policy makers.

How did you find out about this opportunity?

A member of the NDPH Communications Team who had previously worked for POST got in touch with me, because she had heard that they were looking to interview researchers investigating the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare. I wouldn’t have known about it otherwise, as I have never done any policy work before and it’s not really on my radar. Since the POSTnote topic was so closely aligned with my particular research focus, it was a great way for me to contribute to the wider conversation around this topic.

Why did you decide to take part?

Having good policies in place is essential to facilitate a productive ecosystem for academia. As a researcher, my work explores how AI could be used within existing healthcare systems. Making progress in this area strongly depends on high-quality datasets, and appropriate frameworks need to be in place for researchers to obtain access to these. Also, widespread adoption of AI within healthcare systems will require efficient safeguards and regulations to be in place. This makes it vitally important that policy makers understand the potential uses, risks and limitations of these technologies and their associated datasets.

In addition, the media can broadcast very polarised views on scientific topics, so it is essential that researchers disseminate their work in as many formats as possible, so that there can be an honest and fair assessment. It’s important to remember as well that policy makers have a strong bearing on which areas of science are prioritised for funding, so they need to be aware of current knowledge gaps, and the work that needs to be done.

 I would encourage any researcher to contribute to a POSTnote, or a similar policy paper, if they get the opportunity. I would happily do it again, as it wasn’t burdensome in any way and it helped me to place my work within a wider context. Particularly at NDPH, there is a really great support environment for helping you do really influential work that reaches a wider audience. - Aiden Doherty

What happened?

The POST researcher leading this POSTnote contacted me, and we arranged to have an interview over MS Teams. This took about an hour and he asked me various questions about my research work, and the areas I felt policy makers needed to be particularly aware of.

After our conversation, the interviewer shared the notes they had typed up from the meeting and I had the opportunity to edit these. It was reassuring to know there would be an opportunity to refine my thoughts if needed.

Were you nervous?

No, it was a very informal conversation and very much like a day-to-day informed scientific discussion. I enjoyed the opportunity to share some of my own insights in my particular area of expertise. The interviewer was more informed that I had imagined they would be, and it was great to talk with someone so interested in the topic.

What happened after your interview?

A few weeks later, I was sent the draft of the POSTnote to review. It was satisfying to see that my contributions had been incorporated with those of the other people they had interviewed. I was very impressed overall, as it was a balanced and fair assessment of the current state of the science of AI in healthcare.

Read POSTnote 637 ‘AI and Healthcare’.