The government has launched a call for evidence to discover if and how medical devices and technologies may be discriminatory and widen inequalities in healthcare.
As part of an Independent Review on Equity in Medical Devices, led by Professor Dame Margaret Whitehead, the government is aiming to tackle healthcare inequalities by collecting new evidence on how medical devices and technologies may be biased against patients of different ethnicities, genders and other socio-demographic groups.
The call for evidence will be open for eight weeks, with the hope of hearing from those who work most closely with medical devices such as oxygen measuring devices, infrared scanners and related software and hardware including databases and instructions.
This applies across a device’s entire lifecycle from evaluation to marketing and implementation to identify potential biases at each and every stage.
Professor Whitehead, chair of the independent review, said: “We aim to establish where and how potential ethnic and other unfair biases may arise in the design and use of medical devices, and what can be done to make improvements.
“We especially encourage health, technology and industry experts and researchers to share their views and any evidence concerning medical devices in order to help us tackle inequalities in healthcare.”
The review will cover various types of medical devices, including those enabled by artificial intelligence (AI) used in diagnosing illness and determining therapy pathways, as well as risk-scoring systems using genomics to make decisions about personalised medicine.
The issue of racial health inequalities has already been considered in the past, with an attempt to tackle the problem last year. Four projects received a share of £1.4million through a joint programme with the NHSX AI Lab and the Health Foundation to use AI to address the inequalities.
In terms of medical devices and technologies, current UK regulations include clear expectations but they do not include provisions to ensure that medical devices are working equally well for different groups in the population based on their social or demographic characteristics.
Gillian Keegan, minister of state for care and mental health, said: “I am committed to ensuring all patients receive high-quality, innovative healthcare without discrimination.
“The independent review is part of our vital work to tackle healthcare inequalities, and I invite the industry to share their expertise in the call for evidence so we can ensure medical devices are free of any form of bias.”
The review chair will issue the panel’s report to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care outlining clear options for consideration by Spring 2023 with interim findings expected in Winter 2022.