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GPs go forth

NHS needs to pursue AI, says think-tank

The NHS needs to overcome ‘reticence’ about data sharing and embrace the ‘immense opportunities’ offered by artificial intelligence, according to a think-tank.

The Thinking on its Own: AI in the NHS report from the Reform think-tank said the use of AI such as chatbots, wearable devices, diagnostic tools and automated administration could help in self care, health prevention and saving resources.

Norman Lamb, who chairs the parliamentary science and technology committee, said AI offered ‘immense opportunities’ to transform health. It has ‘the potential to propel the health and social care system into the 21st century – improving care both in the hospital and at home, and making much more efficient use of resources.’

The current use of AI ‘was piecemeal and patchy’, said Reform. Early adopters include North Central London NHS CCGs’ trial of Babylon’s instant triage replacement for NHS 111. 

However Reform acknowledged that ‘public confidence and trust are vital for the successful implementation of AI’.

The think-tank also said the NHS needed to ‘fully pursue efforts to digitise its data’ despite the reticence of some health professionals and patients about data sharing.

Fears over hacking contributed to a ‘lack of public trust’ on how data is stored and handled, it added.

Last year’s malicious WannaCry attack on the NHS affected a number of organisations, including 600 GP practices.

The authors noted that concerns include worries that data could be used for other reasons, data loss and inaccurate record keeping.

The report cited a 2014 IPSOS Mori survey for the Royal Statistical Society that said only 41% of patients trusted their GPs’ surgery to use their data appropriately and 35% trust the NHS.

There was also reticence about sharing information following the failure of the scheme in 2016.

‘GPs were unsure over their legal responsibilities and this led to poor engagement,’ said Reform. It said there were ‘definite cultural barriers’ to risk adverse healthcare professionals and organisations sharing data.

The BMA said doctors had ‘serious concerns’ about a relaunch of the Department of Health and Social Care’s data sharing scheme next year which will extract and anonymise data from GP practices


Readers' comments (8)

  • AlanAlmond

    ‘Wearable health devices’ , iPhone apps, heart rate/oxygen saturation monitoring SIM card enabled wrist phones, sleep tracking pedometers...the ‘amazing’ health tech revolution is steaming our way!
    Are people going to stop getting old, clapped out and no longer die as a result?
    This kind of backside wind will make a lot of money for some people in the tech industry but it isn’t going to save society any money in health care provision. People will still get old and die. With luck on average if you believe they hype maybe 5 years later than today ..but when they do they’ll be even more decrepit and even more expensive to care for than if they’d quietly slipped away of a massive untreated heat attack at 80 rather than slowly disappearing as a doubly incontinent bed bound waif at 98

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  • It said there were ‘definite cultural barriers’ to risk adverse healthcare professionals

    Well maybe if the authors pay some of my MDU and I'll be a little less risk averse.

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  • AlanAlmond

    ...a wearable device can’t catch or clean up vomit or wipe someone’s backside. Government access to everyone’s blood pressure and BMI won’t stop people sitting in front of the TV getting fat and developing diabetes. Anyone but a fool would suggest triage by computer ‘AI’ protocol aka 111 isnt anything but totally shit. The only thing that is certain is that proponents of tech and AI consistently over state the potential benefits and always always underestimate the problems and cost. Hyperbole and bullshit are standard when it comes to IT / AI and tech

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  • I see the problem as computer solutions being designed to fulfill what can be done, or what the latest gadget is, rather than to meet a need of clinicians.

    We have self driving cars, mapping software and autopilots on airplanes - there is no reason that some parts of decision making, perhaps for known long term conditions, can't be automated.

    This needs to be led by clinicians though.

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  • The problem with AI in healthcare is that patients enjoy developing empathy and trust with indidual clinicians.This is going to be difficult with nameless mega practices. It is impossible with AI unless robots become more human, like kind knowledgeable clinicians with plenty of time and the ability to cope with any question. Research is going on to develop this, but it is not going to happen over night. The knowledge bit is easy. It is the anthropomorphism that is difficult.

    The only way to bring it in is by force denying patients access to a clinician, like many on line services. The problem is that much of healthcare is the ‘the human bit’ unlike other services.

    Of course Governments want to reduce the cost of staffing, the largest cost in the NHS.

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  • “Comrades, let us join forces and smash these infernal machines that so threaten our status and rock our quo”
    King Lud

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  • AlanAlmond

    Jandoc...references to automated weaving machines are meaningless, cliched and, I’m sorry to say, just plain lazy.

    “Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance“

    From where I sit, it’s Huxley who got closest to today’s reality. No one can think any more, the truth is being lost in a sea of superficial half truth and mush. Shout ‘Luddite’ all you want...but if you can’t put forward an actual reasoned response, you aren’t actually saying diddly squat.

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  • doctordog.

    It’s a worthwhile discussion, but any implementation is several generations away.

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