There is currently no specific legislation in the UK that governs AI, or its use in healthcare. Instead, a number of general-purpose laws apply. These laws, such as the rules on data protection and medical devices, have to be adapted to specific AI technologies and uses. They sometimes overlap, which can cause confusion for businesses trying to identify the relevant requirements that have to be met, or to reconcile potentially conflicting provisions.

As a step towards a clearer, more coherent approach, on 18 July, the UK government published a policy paper on regulating AI in the UK. The government proposes to establish a pro-innovation framework of principles for regulating AI, while leaving regulatory authorities discretion over how the principles apply in their respective sectors. The government intends the framework to be “proportionate, light-touch and forward-looking” to ensure that it can keep pace with developments in these technologies, and so that it can “support responsible innovation in AI – unleashing the full potential of new technologies, while keeping people safe and secure”. This balance is aimed at ensuring that the UK is at the forefront of such developments.

The government’s proposal is broadly in line with the MHRA’s current approach to the regulation of AI. In the MHRA’s response to the consultation on the medical devices regime in the UK post-Brexit, it announced similarly broad-brush plans for regulating AI-enabled medical devices. In particular, no definition of AI as a medical device (AIaMD) will be included in the new UK legislation, and the regime is unlikely to set out specific legal requirements beyond those being considered for software as a medical device. Instead, the MHRA intends to publish guidance that clinical performance evaluation methods should be used for assessing safety and meeting essential requirements of AIaMD, and has also published the Software and AI as a medical device change programme to provide a regulatory framework with s a high degree of protection for patients and public.

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Software can be considered a medical device under EU law. Although guidance has been issued by the European Commission and national authorities to assist in legal classification, factors or criteria that are considered as relevant in such guidance have not been validated by European or national courts. The recent decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on legal classification of software medical device is therefore instructive.

The European Court’s first decision on the classification of software in the context of medical devices legislation

On 7 December 2017, the CJEU issued its judgment in Case C-329/16. The CJEU agreed with the Advocate General’s opinion (discussed in our previous Advisory), and held that software can be classified as a medical device under EU law if the software has at least one functionality that allows the use of patient-specific data to assist the physician in prescribing or calculating the dosage for treating the underlying condition. It does not matter whether the software acts directly or indirectly on the human body. The decisive factor is whether the software is specifically intended by the manufacturer to be used for one or more medical objectives specified in Article 1(2) of Directive 93/42/EEC (the Medical Devices Directive), including the diagnosis, prevention, monitoring, treatment or alleviation of disease.

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