The celebration of the NHS reaching its 75th anniversary was overshadowed by the current challenges confronting the UK healthcare system. A Deloitte study highlights that job dissatisfaction is prompting more than a third (35%) of doctors and half of nurses to consider leaving the profession, emphasising the urgent need to embrace solutions that will support the workforce, increase efficiencies and promote preventative health approaches to reduce demand. Technology including AI can help to realise an ambition to cultivate a resilient healthcare system that will sustain the NHS for another 75 years.
However, the challenges of accessing and sharing data, compounded by skills shortages and inadequate investment in digital capability and infrastructure makes it difficult to embrace and adopt technologies including AI. The UK Government needs to make it clear which applications and processes can help the NHS now, and in years to come to arm the NHS workforce with practical guidance that will have a positive impact on their work and overall patient care.
AI to streamline administrative tasks
One area where current AI technology can have an immediate impact is streamlining administrative tasks and patient management.
By implementing AI into administrative tasks, such as patient triaging, healthcare professionals can use algorithms to analyse patient symptoms and prioritise cases based on a standardised understanding of urgency. This will vitally streamline the process, optimise GP schedules, effectively manage appointment slots, and ensure patients receive the right level of care in a timely manner. By efficiently allocating the time and resources of GPs, this will help with patient flow and reduce waiting times.
Additionally, current AI technologies can automate clinical documentation, including notetaking and updating electronic health records. This should reduce the administrative burden on GPs, freeing them up to focus on delivering personalised care and fostering stronger doctor-patient relationships.
The UK Government’s plan to invest £240 million by March 2024 into practices across England to embrace the latest communications technologies shows a commitment to continuing the adoption of AI technology to streamline healthcare resources, support GP and alleviating pressures on the NHS.
AI to improve patient data
AI could be powerfully harnessed as part of a future where patient data is seamlessly interconnected across the NHS and care system. However, AI will not be able to be meaningfully harnessed without data that is FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable). Current medical records are often disconnected and not shared across the system meaning that patients have to repeat their histories at every appointment, which is frustrating and wastes valuable time in the consultation.
Therefore, FAIR data will become increasingly important longer term to unlock the full spectrum of a patient’s medical history, from dental records to prescriptions to work-related injuries and family health history. Armed with this knowledge, GPs can in turn deliver care that is much quicker and with better precision and insight, paving the way towards personalised care as the norm.
Similarly, it addresses the issue of inconsistent access to medical records when a patient moves or practices shut down, ensuring that everyone can benefit from the advantages of a consistent GP. For example, in a recent interview, Dr Phil Whitaker discussed how he was able to determine the reason for a patient randomly collapsing was an unusual side-effect of medication Dr Whitaker had previously prescribed. This may have been overlooked by another GP, as they might not have had access to data on the prescription.
Better sharing of interoperable patient data would enable a GP to confidently make diagnoses and propose management options based on a patient’s full medical history, providing a much better experience for everyone.
Moreover, having FAIR data would enable AI to be harnessed for a much more involved role in proactive care and predictive prevention. By tracking patients’ health records and linking records across the NHS and care system and external secure data environments, AI algorithms can flag individuals who appear to be at a higher risk of developing disease, allowing for early interventions and targeted preventative measures, leading to better health outcomes and reduced healthcare costs.
Technology will alleviate pressures on the NHS
Leveraging data, AI and digital technologies will enhance the diagnostic capabilities of GPs, streamline administrative tasks, support GPs in providing more personalised care, and contribute to proactive population heath management.
The shift towards a more proactive health model will ultimately pave the way for a more resilient NHS for the next 75 years and beyond and contribute to enhanced healthy life expectancy and a reduction in health and wellbeing inequalities, leading ultimately to enhance societal and economic resilience.
The health service of the future needs to be one that is open to change and responds to evolving expectations of the general public, embraces new partnerships outside the system to innovate more quickly, and is able to harness the exponential advances in life sciences and in medical treatments accelerating through AI.
Tina Woods is CEO of Business for Health and author of Live Longer with AI