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Major investment in AI to support UK health service

The plans, for the U.K. National Health Service (NHS), were announced by Health Secretary Matt Hancock who indicated that said AI has “enormous power” to improve care, save lives and ensure doctors had more time to spend with patients. Al will be used for a range of activities, from diagnosing patients, gaining new insights into diseases, and for improving how hospitals operate. In doing so, he announced that £250 million ($3 million) will be ring fenced from the health budget for health related artificial intelligence projects.

The new AI lab will sit within the new NHS digital health unit, NHSX. Academics, specialists and technology companies will work within the laboratory to develop different strands of health technology.

The foundations for the AI center were laid out in June 2109, when NHS chief executive Simon Stevens announced a scheme where technologists can assist the NHS with developing carefully targeted AI across the health service. The focus of innovations is with helping to meet the NHS Long Term Plan’s target of making up to 30 million outpatient appointments unnecessary, and thereby saving the British government £1 billion ($1.2 billion) per year). As part of the modernization plans, the NHS also aims to digitize its outpatients system.

AI innovations

Among the innovations being considered are designing systems to detect people at risk of post-operative complications, infections or those who would benefit from follow-up appointments with clinicians (each aimed at reducing hospital readmission rates).

Cancer detection

As an example of what investment in health-related AI can achieve, RM Partners has launched a pilot in the area of Sutton (south London), which uses an AI decision support tool called ‘C the Signs’. The aim is to help medical practitioners to identify patients at risk of cancer earlier, compared with conventional methods. The app supports clinicians in recommending what investigations or referrals the patient may need.

AI can also assist the health service with improving cancer screening through accelerating the time taken to obtain results of tests, such as mammograms. This improvement of time-to-result would also apply to brain scans, eye scans and heart monitoring.

Patient screening

In a different application, University College London has put together an AI platform that flags which patients are most likely not to turn up for an appointment. Such technology can also send out automated reminders. Such technology can also help to identifying which patients could be more easily treated in the community.

Digital strategy matters

While many have welcomed the investment, The Guardian reports that some commentators are concerned about the NHS’s troubled record when it comes to new technology. Because of this new systems will need robust evaluation before they interface with patients, and the AI technologies need to be integrated into a well-designed digital strategy.

There are other factors too. The NHS will need to get data right to truly harness the potential of AI in healthcare. This means collecting the correct data in the desired format; plus increasing the quality and reliability of the data and obtaining permission from patients to collect more of it, and ensuring that the data is held securely.

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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