This week in a report from Digital Health, Rachel Dunscombe, the CEO of the NHS Digital Academy, and Jane Rendall from Sectra discuss how we are at a pivotal point in healthcare.

For NHS imaging disciplines, challenges with recruitment and rising demand mean that current ways of working are inefficient, with too few experts to meet patient needs adequately. If the NHS doesn’t want to reach the tipping point, Artificial Intelligence (AI) investment is essential to redesign services, processes, and operations.

However, integrating AI into healthcare services is easier said than done. To maximise the impact of AI, clinicians need to understand how it works and how it can augment the profession. Without that level of education, they don’t know the potential of what can be automated and whether it can be done safely in a way that the public trust.

Four pillars of education

The report alludes to four core pillars of education that healthcare professions need. A complex redesign using sophisticated AI can only happen with new skillsets that fit the modern data-driven healthcare service.

  • Technology – healthcare professionals need to know how AI applications work and how to interpret the insights. There is an initial leap where clinicians need to demystify AI and build a vision of what exists now and what it could do in the future.
  • Quality control – the technology is essentially just the outer coating of complex deep learning algorithms. Constant checks and governance on the performance and behaviour of the algorithms are vital in an industry where people’s lives are at risk.
  • Reimagining workflows – clinicians need to look at how they work and how AI can augment tasks. There are plenty of techniques to make their roles more efficient and focus on patient care.
  • Redesigning pathways – to leverage technology, quality control, and augmented workflows requires a deeper look at the system and patient-level pathways. This means creating a streamlined journey for the patient, such as fast test results or access to procedures that are closer to home.

There is so much hype around AI which is accelerating as a result of Covid-19. As people adapt to working and living remotely and in isolation, AI like voice assistants (Alexa, Google Home) are now becoming integral to our way of life. With that in mind, it would make sense for the NHS to invest in technology quickly. However, unless the investment is accompanied by continuous professional development and education for anyone in healthcare, it leads to redundant technology that doesn’t fit the system.

Data is at the epicentre of everything

For AI technology to be effective, it needs a vast amount of data. Unfortunately, an inherent problem with healthcare services is that departments and organisations often work in siloed data ecosystems. Data and technology need to come together and form a solution that makes patient life better. For example, if radiologists or pathologists understand AI and communicate that to citizens, patients begin to trust the technology over an analogue approach. Trust in AI leads to a willingness to share data and continual growth in AI solutions as they are fed with information.

Education in AI can go some way to solving the perennial problem of sharing medical data. Granted, there is much work to be done with legacy systems and governments as well, but having patients onboard is an excellent building block.

Empowering the healthcare workforce through innovation

The Artificial Intelligence (AI) Award run by the Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC) in partnership with NHSX shows that education and innovation are part of the NHS Long Term Plan. It makes £140 million available over four years to accelerate testing and evaluation of AI technologies across screening, diagnosis, decision support and improving system efficiency.

Programmes like this start to remove the reliance on individual providers to introduce new technologies into the NHS. Using third parties has resulted in piecemeal applications and varying degrees of results that nobody fully understands. Innovations from the NHS AI Lab can embed themselves in transformation plans and better support education. By educating clinicians in AI, they can genuinely start to redesign and digitally transform healthcare.

Answer is also part of a new and exciting AI programme, which is now recognised as a key enabler in working towards overcoming some of the challenges we’ve spoken about in this article. In a new partnership between Answer and the London Medical Imaging and AI Centre for Value-Based Healthcare there is a clear path to enabling AI in hospitals as the future of patient care. New AI platforms will be built and used to support clinicians with faster diagnosis and treatments, personalised therapies, and effective screening across a range of conditions and procedures.

Our vision is that this programme, funded by the Office of Life Sciences, will be a springboard to mainstream AI across the NHS and to become a global exemplar, improving direct patient care through data and intelligence not seen before, introducing a new type of healthcare provision. This leading-edge initiative will undoubtedly pave the way for AI across the NHS for years to come. 

For more information on this programme please see a recent joint press release here or contact us directly here.

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