June 21, 2024
WHO issues ethical guidelines for AI in healthcare, focusing on large multi-modal models

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released detailed guidance on the ethics and governance of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare, with a specific focus on large multi-modal models (LMMs). This comprehensive guidance comes as AI technologies, particularly LMMs, are increasingly integrated into healthcare systems globally, revolutionizing the way health services are delivered and managed.

WHO issues ethical guidelines for AI in healthcare, focusing on large multi-modal models Study: Ethics and governance of artificial intelligence for health. Guidance on large multi-modal models. Image Credit: metamorworks / Shutterstock.com

Key aspects of WHO guidance

The guidance document delves into various aspects of AI application in healthcare, addressing the urgent need for ethical considerations and robust governance frameworks.

Ethical use of AI in healthcare

Emphasizing the importance of respecting patient autonomy, the WHO outlines the need for AI systems to be transparent and intelligible. This is crucial to maintain the responsibility and accountability of AI-assisted decisions in healthcare.


LMMs, which are capable of processing and interpreting diverse data types, including biosensor data, genomic information, and environmental factors, are at the forefront of AI in healthcare. Moreover, LMMs offer immense potential in diagnostics, clinical care, and medical research. However, their use raises concerns about data privacy, potential biases in decision-making, and the risk of job displacement in the health sector.

Balancing benefits and risks

WHO guidance advocates for a balanced approach to AI in healthcare, in which researchers maximize the benefits of AI for improving healthcare delivery and research while addressing the risks associated with its use. This includes ensuring data privacy, preventing biases, and aligning AI technologies with sustainability and public health goals.

Recommendations for governments and stakeholders

The WHO guidance emphasizes the critical role of governments in regulating AI in healthcare. For example, governments are encouraged to establish regulatory frameworks to develop and enforce standards for the development and deployment of AI in healthcare. This involves ensuring AI systems are transparent, comply with ethical standards, and respect human rights.

Independent audits and impact assessments

The WHO recommends mandatory independent audits and impact assessments of AI systems, particularly those deployed on a large scale. These assessments should focus on data protection, human rights implications, and the impacts of AI on diverse populations.

Inclusive stakeholder engagement

The WHO guidance underscores the importance of involving a wide range of stakeholders, including healthcare professionals, patients, AI developers, and civil society, in the AI development process. This approach will ensure that AI systems are inclusive, equitable, and address the needs of all sections of society.

Potential and challenges of AI in healthcare

AI in healthcare offers significant potential for improving patient outcomes, enhancing the efficiency of healthcare systems, and accelerating medical research. LMMs, in particular, have the ability to analyze vast amounts of data, thereby leading to more accurate diagnoses, personalized treatment plans, and a better understanding of complex medical conditions.

However, the integration of AI in healthcare also presents significant challenges. These include concerns over data privacy, the risk of AI systems perpetuating existing biases, and the ethical implications of AI-assisted decision-making in healthcare. The WHO guidance aims to address these challenges by providing a framework for the ethical and responsible use of AI in healthcare.

Global implications and future directions

The release of the WHO guidance on AI in healthcare is a milestone in the global effort to harness the benefits of AI while mitigating its risks. Moreover, these guidelines highlight the need for international collaboration and shared standards in developing and deploying AI technologies in healthcare.

Looking forward, the WHO guidance sets the stage for ongoing dialogue and development in this rapidly evolving field. To this end, the WHO presents an opportunity for governments, healthcare providers, AI developers, and civil society to work together to ensure that AI in healthcare is used ethically and responsibly for the greater good of public health.


The comprehensive guidance by the WHO on the ethics and governance of AI in healthcare, with a focus on LMMs, marks a significant step forward in addressing the complex challenges and opportunities presented by AI in healthcare.

By providing clear recommendations and highlighting the need for balanced, ethical, and inclusive approaches, the WHO is leading the way in ensuring that AI technologies are harnessed to improve healthcare outcomes, enhance patient care, and advance global health equity. As AI continues to transform healthcare, this guidance will serve as a crucial reference for policymakers, healthcare providers, and AI developers worldwide.

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