NHS to boost AI role with national laboratory

Health secretary Matt Hancock has announced that £250 million will be spent on boosting the role of artificial intelligence within the NHS in England.

This will include the setting up of an AI laboratory to enhance care of patients and research.

Hancock told BBC News: “The power of artificial intelligence to improve medicine, to save lives, to improve the way treatments are done, that power is enormous.

“In this country, we’ve got the opportunity to be one of the leading countries in the world at using this new technology.

“I want the NHS, through its AI lab, to actually be searching itself for new insights that are going to save lives.”

AI can be used in the health sector for medical imaging, developed personalised health products and in some cases assist the medical professional in their task.

Dr Simon Wallace, chief clinical information officer of Nuance Communications, explained how the technology can ease the burden place on NHS staff, as well as improve patient care.

He said: “This move – as part of additional investment in artificial intelligence from the NHS – is another step towards using disruptive technology to enhance patient care, by helping clinicians to focus on the most important cases and reduce the growing burdens of admin.

“AI is already supporting clinicians across NHS Trusts, such as Homerton – which has deployed AI-enabled speech recognition to cut the turnaround time on clinical letters to patients following consultations. Reducing this turnaround time from 12-17 days to two – three – and at a saving of more than £150,000 per year in outsourced transcription costs – the Trust has benefited significantly from deploying such tech.

“This is only the beginning for AI in healthcare. Tech such as ambient clinical intelligence has the ability to listen to physician-patient conversations and enable clinical documentation to draft itself during the consultation, turning natural language into coherent clinical records.”

Research from enterprise information management company OpenText suggests there is uncertainty among the population about trusting the use of AI within the health service.

Its findings suggest:

  • A more accurate diagnosis was identified as the biggest benefit of introducing AI into healthcare, yet only a quarter (26%) of UK consumers believe robots would reach the correct diagnosis;
  • Speed and quick access were also highlighted as major benefits – 21% believe AI technology can offer a quick diagnosis and the same proportion (21%) would appreciate not having to take time off work to visit a doctor;
  • One in five (21%) British citizens think that Brexit will impact the UK’s ability to innovate in the area of artificial intelligence.

The research also suggests that 41% do not know if they would trust medical diagnosis given by AI. A further 26% said they do not trust the technology, while 11% said they would trust the diagnosis of AI more, or just as much, as a doctor’s diagnosis.

Mark Bridger, SVP, Europe at Open Text, said: “Artificial intelligence and cognitive technologies have the potential to completely transform healthcare services. While sci-fi films can distort the impact of AI technology, it’s time to stop viewing AI as an existential threat to our livelihoods and our health. AI will transform the workplace as menial tasks, and some non-routine jobs, are digitalised through robotics and process automation but it cannot replace people.

“The true value of AI will be found in it working alongside humans to ease the pressure across the healthcare system as well as making our lives easier. By implementing AI when tapping into the vast volumes of data available to them, healthcare organisations can gain access to real-time information and sophisticated insights – empowering them to improve decision-making and deliver services that really do meet the needs and wants of UK citizens.”

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