Facial Recognition Technology Raises Ethical, Legal, Privacy Concerns in Health Care

Physicians must consider the challenges associated with using facial recognition technology in healthcare settings.

Although facial recognition technology (FRT) is a promising new advancement in health care, medical professionals should take into account the challenges of privacy, bias, and potential liability involved.1,2

FRT is becoming increasingly popular in the healthcare field. By mapping facial characteristics and storing those data, this technology has the ability to diagnose and monitor patients. Recently, for example, the app Face2Gene correctly identified a rare disease in a young patient that had stumped physicians for 16 years. Soon, FRT could give guesses on how long a patient will live, as well as identify behaviors and emotions from a person’s face that may show whether he or she has depression, for example.

The future for FRT is exciting, but as with all new technology, healthcare professionals should be cognizant of the ethical implications.

“FRT in health care raises ethical questions about privacy and data protection, potential bias in the data or analysis, and potential negative implications for the therapeutic alliance in patient-clinician relationships,” wrote Nicole Martinez-Martin, JD, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Stamford Center for Biomedical Ethics and author of a recent article on FRT published in the AMA Journal of Ethics.

Because FRT snaps photos of patients’ faces, it is important to explain what happens with those data. The truth is that while the photos fall under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, it is possible that those protections may be limited because the images are stored within the FRT to help the device continue to learn and improve future diagnoses.

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The other issue with FRT is that it needs photographic examples of people who have different genetic disorders to identify matching faces in the future. If the photos fed to the machine are not diverse enough, it is likely to miss big red flags. Scientists, engineers, and clinicians are working toward a solution for this bias issue, but until then, medical professionals should be aware of the limitations that come with this technology.

Down the road, it is possible that healthcare organizations may decide that FRT has become so advanced that it could replace a diagnosis from a physician. This, however, might spark some tough legal and liability issues if the diagnosis is incorrect.

“To maintain trust and transparency with patients,” added Dr Martinez-Martin, “organizations should consider involving relevant community stakeholders in implementing FRT and in decisions about establishing and improving practices of informing patients about the organization’s use of FRT.”

With great new technology comes an equal number of ethical considerations and responsibilities for medical professionals across the country.

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  1. Martinez-Martin N. What are important ethical implications of using facial recognition technology in health care? AMA J Ethics. 2019;21(2):E180-187.
  2. Molteni M. Thanks to AI, Computers Can Now See Your Health Problems. Wired. https://www.wired.com/2017/01/computers-can-tell-glance-youve-got-genetic-disorders/. January 9, 2017. Accessed March 12, 2019.

This article originally appeared on Medical Bag