Turkey: An introduction to the Turkish Institute of Health Data Research and Artificial Intelligence Applications
On 12 December 2019, the Turkish Institute of Health Data Research and Artificial Intelligence Applications ('the Institute') was established under the Presidency of Turkish Health Institutes, one of the institutions of the Ministry of Health. Melis Mert and Miray Muratoğluc, from BTS & Partners, discuss the background to the Institute, as well as to the health and artificial intelligence ('AI') in Turkey.
The Institute has been established to carry out AI-based data research, facilitate citizens' access to health, provide savings, and have an approach to guide the diagnosis and treatments of diseases. The importance of the Institute has also been underlined by the Minister of Health, Fahrettin Koca, who has indicated that AI has been an intensive and global trend in the health sector and that digitalisation in the health sector has been implemented in Turkey.
Moreover, the Institute's legal framework, the Regulation on the Structuring and Execution of the Turkish Institute of Health Data Research and Artificial Intelligence Applications1 ('the Regulation'), has been published and entered into force on 12 March 2022.
What does the Regulation regulate?
The Regulation, which has been prepared by the Presidency of the Turkish Health Institutes, regulates (i) the duties and authorities; and (ii) the structuring and the units of the Institute.
The main duties and authorities of the Institute are to:
- increase the use of health data and AI in Turkey and conducting scientific and technological research in this context;
- scientifically and financially support research conducted by public institutions, higher education institutions, and research and development ('R&D') centres;
- collaborate with relevant private actors in this sector; and
- prepare publications and policies in this field.
Furthermore, the Regulation also introduces provisions regarding the structuring of the Institute; mainly the Presidency of the Institute, scientific committees, and other units to be established within the Institute. The Institute currently carries out various activities for data research and AI applications with a Big Data Unit, a Medical Decision Support Systems Unit, and a Smart Medical Device Technologies Units.
Overview of health and AI in Turkey
The objectives of the Institute can be observed more concretely via the Turkish Government's statements on health and AI. Accordingly, the aims and statements of the Turkish Presidency of Strategy and Budget's 11th Development Plan for 2019-2023 ('the Plan') and the National Artificial Intelligence Strategy ('the Strategy') in the field of health sector and AI applications are important in this area.
The Plan has introduced the expectations and actions that can be taken regarding the restructuring of health services in line with the enhancing technologies. The health section of the Plan is more aimed at the issue of access to health data. In this context, the aim is to produce data suitable for use in scientific research, to strengthen the data infrastructure by restructuring health datasets, and to develop co-operation and co-ordination in data sharing between institutions.
The second essential reference point for AI applications in the Turkish healthcare industry is the Strategy, which was first announced with the Presidential Annual Program for 2022 and reveals the measures and governance mechanisms in the field of AI. Since AI-supported systems play a crucial and active role in health sector, especially in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, and since it is likely to conduct efficient research with minimised privacy issues through these systems, the Government explicitly underlines the benefits of AI systems. Moreover, as it is now one of the main duties of the Institute, the Strategy also reminds the necessity of the international co-operation. Among many other statements, the Strategy mentions the Institute as one of the institutional structures related to AI, which 'aims to carry out projects on the subjects of saving money by preventing unnecessary examinations, providing fast reporting and diagnosis'.
What to expect after the Regulation?
As stated above, Turkey has already introduced its objectives regarding AI-based health research and developments and the establishment of the Institute with the Regulation now creates a concrete framework in terms of the Government's objectives in this sector. However, since the Regulation does not envisage any obligations for the organisations or structures, such as a mandatory mechanism for activities to be carried out in this area, it may serve as a tool to reinforce Turkey's digital health ecosystem.
Pursuant to the Regulation, it has been anticipated that Turkey will become an important actor in the international health sector through the R&D studies to be carried out and supported by the Institute and that through the Institute's activities, Turkey's economic, sectoral, and scientific potential in health services and sciences will be unveiled. Considering Turkey's large population and digital applications already in the field of digital health, Turkey has a potential of rich data infrastructure, suitable for research to be conducted in the health field. As a result of these opportunities and aims on the development of AI systems, Turkey's healthcare services will deem to improve in terms of quality, efficiency, and costs.
It should be also noted that the Government frequently declares its support regarding the co-operation between public institutions and organisations, universities, and private sector actors with all its resources, through all the plans and policies it has published, including the Regulation. Therefore, Turkey's current AI-development framework aims to:
- encourage the private sector to make an effort and have budget to invest in data-based AI studies in the health sector;
- facilitate the gathering of stakeholders under the Institute; and
- ensure growth and development in the digitalised health sector, not only at company-based level but at a collective level.
1. See: https://www.resmigazete.gov.tr/eskiler/2022/03/20220312-9.htm (only available in Turkish)