Israeli lawmakers to Bring Use of AI in Hospitals to Parliamentary Discussion

Patients were kept in the dark regarding a pilot program that utilized artificial intelligence to help doctors decide if they should undergo surgery

Yoav Stoler 17:4827.12.17
Israeli lawmakers are calling for a regulatory discussion about the role of artificial intelligence in the local healthcare system, following a Monday Calcalist report about the use of an AI software in Israeli hospitals to decide which patients should undergo surgery. The report revealed that while such a software is currently tested at several Israeli hospitals, patients were not informed.  


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Developed by MEDecide Ltd., a Tel Aviv-based startup founded in 2015, the software uses anonymized patient data such as medical history, previous test results, the medications prescribed to the patient to recommend whether surgery should be performed or not, sometimes advising different treatments or additional testing. According to MEDecide's founders, the software is intended to prevent unnecessary surgeries and reduce both risks and costs to patients, hospitals, and insurers.


Israel's parliament. Photo: Amit Shabi Israel's parliament. Photo: Amit Shabi



For the past year, the software has been used in a pilot program in several Israeli hospitals, but patients whose situation was evaluated were not informed. Both MEDecide's founders and Itzhak Braverman, the director of Hillel Yaffe Medical Center's Otolaryngology Department which was part of the pilot, stressed that the program was fully authorized by the Israeli Ministry of Health, though a spokesman for the ministry said Sunday it is not familiar with the company and is not sponsoring the pilot program. The pilot has also been approved by the hospitals' institutional review boards.


In a Tuesday interview with Calcalist Uri Maklev, chairman of the Israeli parliamentary Science and Technology Committee, said he would move to promote relevant regulation. "It's inconceivable that a doctor won't explain to the patient-relevant processes," he said. "Today, the big companies know us better than we know ourselves," Mr. Maklev said.


Technological innovation should be encouraged, but not at the cost of transparency, the lawmaker added. "We see the latest technological developments, and we are enthusiastic supporters of advancing the use of AI. The benefit of the technology is an issue of human lives, and the worries can be managed with appropriate regulation and laws."


In interviews with Calcalist held Tuesday, Israeli lawmakers Meir Cohen and Itzik Shmuli, both members of the parliamentary labor, welfare and health committee, criticized the secrecy around the pilot program and announced they will demand an urgent parliamentary discussion.


"You can't take patient data without their knowledge and consent," said Avinoam Reches, chairman of the ethics committee of the Israel Medical Association, in a Tuesday interview with Calcalist. He explained that the problem with the pilot program was not the use of the system per se, but the secrecy involved. "You can't make a secret deal for patient information. You're turning me into economic value without notifying me. Even anonymized profiles have commercial value."


Startups and technology companies working with healthcare systems and hospitals routinely sign non-disclosure agreements to protect both intellectual property and patient privacy, though terms of agreements vary. According to MEDecide, the non-disclosure agreements related to its software were standard, and the software does not record any private or identifying information about the medical cases it is consulted about.


The Israeli ministry of health declined to comment.
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