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Artificial Intelligence has already arrived in healthcare. Few doubt though, that we are only at the beginning of seeing how it will impact patient care. Not unsurprisingly, the pace of development in the commercial sector has outstripped progress by traditional healthcare providers – in large part because of the great financial rewards to be had.
Few doubt too that while AI in healthcare promises great benefits to patients, it equally presents risks to patient safety, health equity and data security.
The only reasonable way to ensure that the benefits are maximised and the risks are minimised is if doctors and those from across the wider health and care landscape take an active role in the development of this technology today. It is not too late.
That is not to say doctors should give up medicine and take up computational science, far from it – their medical and clinical knowledge are vital for their involvement in what is being developed, what standards need to be created and met and what limitations on AI should be imposed, if any.
And while the Academy welcomes the use of Artificial Intelligence in healthcare and the significant opportunities and benefits it offers patients and clinicians, there are substantial implications for the way health and care systems across the UK operate and are organised. It is the Academy’s view that while the UK’s health and care systems were somewhat late to recognise the potential AI has when it comes to improving healthcare, the NHS in general and NHS Digital in particular are catching up fast. Both are taking a commendably ‘real-world’ approach in an environment which is traditionally slow to change.
The recent publication of the NHS Long Term Plan set out some admirable ambitions for the use of digital technology and while the Academy applauds these aspirations the day to day experience of many doctors in both primary and secondary care is often a world away from the picture painted in the plan. With many hospitals using multiple computer systems, which often don’t communicate, the very idea of an AI enabled healthcare system seems far-fetched at best.
For AI to truly flourish, not only must IT be overhauled and made inter-operable, but the quality and extent of health data must be radically improved too. The workforce will need to be trained on its value and the need for accuracy and healthcare organisations will need to have robust plans in place to provide backup services if technology systems fail or are breached.
In view of this the Academy has identified seven key recommendations which politicians, policy makers and service providers would do well to follow.