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NHS report suggests AI will give docs more patient time

Alia Talaat

NHS report suggests AI will give docs more patient time

A report from the NHS suggests the impending technological ‘revolution’ in healthcare will increase the amount of time doctors can spend with patients.

NHS doctors are overburdened; a problem only getting worse from a growing and ageing population, and not enough funding.

The report was led by US academic Eric Topol and calls for a reskilling of NHS staff to harness new digital skills. AI and robotics can reduce the burden on healthcare professionals, but only if they’re utilised effectively.

Doctors will not be replaced by robots but instead will have their abilities “enhanced” to improve care. Around 90 percent of all NHS jobs are predicted to require digital skills within the next 20 years.

The use of virtual assistants such as those offered by Apple, Google, and Amazon are expected to be among the closest innovations to being ready.

Assistants can help with checking whether symptoms require urgent care, a GP appointment, or whether a doctor needs to be seen at all. This would help prevent the misuse of A&E by people with trivial ailments or the booking of GP appointments for otherwise healthy adults with things such as a common cold.

Virtual assistants could also be used to book and remind of appointments. This would help to reduce the number of unattended appointments that someone else could have needed.

Yet another concept is the use of a ‘mental health triage bot’ that engages in conversations while analysing text and voice for suicidal ideas and emotion. This could help reduce the ~6000 suicides per year.

The main concern preventing uptake is the potential for errors, which in healthcare could be fatal.

AI News previously reported on the findings of NHS consultant ‘Dr Murphy’ who reached out to us after using ‘GP at Hand’ from Babylon Health, an AI-powered service promoted by health secretary Matt Hancock.

Dr Murphy has since posted many flawed experiences with the service, but one example of a “48yr old obese 30/day male smoker develop[ing] sudden onset central chest pain & sweating” suggested booking a GP appointment. Anyone with common sense would say call 999 urgently.

That example could have meant life or death and shows, while such a system could one day provide huge benefits, it must undergo rigorous testing.

Commenting on the report, Hancock said:

Our health service is on the cusp of a technology revolution and our brilliant staff will be in the driving seat when it happens.

Technology must be there to enhance and support clinicians. It has the potential to make working lives easier for dedicated NHS staff and free them up to use their medical expertise and do what they do best: care for patients.”

In the NHS report, it’s claimed the use of virtual assistants could save 5.7 million hours of GP’s time across England per year.

Further AI use cases include speeding up the interpretation of scans; improving accuracy while enabling treatments to begin sooner. We’ve created a dedicated ‘healthcare’ category on AI News highlighting the incredible advances in this area.

When it comes to robotics, their assistance in surgery could be expanded in addition to being used for simple tasks which are important but time-consuming such as dispensing medicines.

Other emerging technologies such as VR also present exciting opportunities. Virtual reality could help with pain reduction and treating mental conditions such as post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and phobias.

The report’s authors conclude: “Our review of the evidence leads us to suggest that these technologies will not replace healthcare professionals, but will enhance them … giving them more time to care for patients.”

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and their use cases? Attend the co-located AI & Big Data Expo events with upcoming shows in Silicon Valley, London, and Amsterdam to learn more. Co-located with the IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, and Cyber Security & Cloud Expo.