Science and Technology

Unlocking Australia’s potential in surgical AI


Artificial intelligence (AI) technology has huge potential to improve surgeries and patient care. But first, Australia needs proper guidelines to make sure AI is used safely and ethically in operating rooms according to experts.

In a recent study, researchers from the University of Adelaide and Flinders University explained that Australia is well-positioned to become a world leader in implementing AI for surgery – but only if the right safeguards are put in place.

“There is no doubt that AI has the potential to change surgical services for the better, improving diagnostic accuracy and efficiency,” said Dr Joshua Kovoor, the study’s lead author. “The Adelaide Score algorithm is the perfect example of this as we have shown that it can successfully predict discharge within a 12–24 hour period, potentially helping to improve patient management in hospitals.”

But Dr Kovoor cautions that AI should never replace human medical staff. “It should always be used as an assistive tool, and its implementation needs to be carefully regulated.”

The researchers identified several ethical risks and concerns around using AI automation for surgeries that need to be addressed:

  • Surgeons may have trouble trusting AI recommendations without understanding the reasoning behind them
  • Current malpractice guidelines will also need to be revised to reflect the use of AI including policies around the handling of sensitive patient data.

Despite these challenges, Australia has a prime opportunity to become a true leader in safe, reliable and effective use of AI for surgery, according to researchers.

“Australia has the opportunity to become a global leader in adopting this technology but there needs to be a strict evidence-based approach which reflects international frameworks as well as local factors,” said Professor Guy Maddern, a surgeon and senior author on the study.

The researchers recommend Australia develop a national infrastructure to consistently monitor and audit AI surgical tools. There also needs to be strict standards and frameworks created, aligned with international guidelines.

“Patients and surgical staff also need to be educated on the benefits and limitations of this technology,” Professor Maddern said.

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