Representing estates and facilities professionals operating within the  



The rise of the machine

Independent think tank, Reform, has published a report, Thinking on its own: AI in the NHS, to explore the opportunities and challenges of the applications of artificial intelligence (AI) in the NHS and propose some potential solutions.


AI has the potential to support delivery of the NHS's Five Year Forward View by narrowing three gaps in health provision. In health and wellbeing AI could predict which individuals or groups are at risk of illness and allow the NHS to target treatment more effectively towards them. AI tools could help to reduce the care and quality gap by giving all health professionals and patients access to cutting edge diagnostics and treatment tailored to individual need. It could help to address the efficiency and funding gap by automating tasks, triaging patients to the most appropriate services and allowing them to self-care. 


However, the report argues that the NHS will not realise the full benefits of artificial intelligence without major reform. It stresses the need for a new approach to the adoption of technology, to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past and to embed technology within service transformation plans rather than adding it as an afterthought.


Thinking on its own: AI in the NHS sets out to understand how AI can help the NHS, for instance to introduce reform, become more efficient, deliver better outcomes and reduce costs, as well as how to overcome the challenges that may prevent the benefits of AI being fully realised.


It warns that the continued use of paper records in hospitals and the inability of IT systems to communicate with each other limit the NHS’s ability to collect and easily link data, which is the fuel of AI. The Health Service should act because AI has real potential to improve healthcare, through the better detection of health issues and greater efficiency in the way that hospitals operate.


The report recommends that local NHS leaders should consider including AI in their service transformation plans because of the wide range of benefits that it can bring. AI is already enabling interpretations of scans for breast cancer 30 times faster than humans and with greater accuracy. It is using data collected from wearables and sensors in homes to help individuals make healthier lifestyle choices. It is providing cognitive behavioural therapy to mental health patients, with nearly 17,000 people treated so far.


In future, AI systems can help to keep medical staff up to date with the 2.5 million scientific articles published in the English language each year, enabling them to offer the best quality of care. They can also improve vital administrative tasks such as the scheduling of operations. It was recently estimated that 750 additional routine operations a day could be carried out if schedules in hospitals were better organised.


As yet, however, the report finds that the use of AI in the NHS has been “piecemeal” with only “patchy realisation of benefits”.  It warns that the NHS could do more to generate the good quality data on which AI depends. Problems of data quality include, for example, the inconsistent recording of medical events, which could lead AI systems to the wrong conclusions.


The report finds that the most practical way for the NHS to introduce artificial intelligence in the short term will be through partnerships with private sector companies. It calls for effective regulation of those partnerships. For example, technology companies should be held accountable for the products that they design. The NHS should safeguard itself from situations where it could be charged unfairly high fees to use AI systems that would have been impossible to develop without the use of NHS patient data.


It recommends that the main regulator for medical products, the MHRA, should update its certification procedures as AI tools based on machine learning techniques present challenges for current regulation. A particular concern is that AI systems could use data that is biased against particular patient groups, in particular those on low incomes that may have less frequent interaction with the NHS.


Commenting in the Foreword to the report, Norman Lamb MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, says that the Government also has much to do to create the right conditions for AI to be fully harnessed in the NHS. He argues that to put the UK at the forefront of innovation in AI, we must embrace the revolutionary potential of AI itself, algorithms and data in healthcare. "We are on the brink of a major transformation in the way we diagnose, treat, and even prevent ill health," he says.


Download the full report here


HEFMA would like to hear your thoughts about the use of Artificial Intelligence in the health service.


Are you involved with a trial of AI that impacts EFM services or processes?

Could you see an application for AI within your area of responsibility?

What do you think are the barriers to the adoption of AI technology from your experience of working within the NHS?



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