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How AWS is enabling digital transformation in the NHS

How AWS is enabling digital transformation in the NHS
By Beth Gault
28 May 2024

Dr Andrew Jones, GP and head of digital transformation at AWS, the ‘cloud arm’ of Amazon, tells Healthcare Leader’s senior reporter Beth Gault how their solutions are helping drive digital transformation

Beth Gault (BG): What does AWS have to do with healthcare?

AJ: Amazon first developed this amazing ability to run data centres for their own purposes – or In about 2006, we thought this is a capability we’ve become experts in that we could make available to other businesses as Amazon Web Services (AWS).

AWS is the arm of Amazon that provides cloud technology to help organisations build solutions to meet their needs.

There are all sorts of businesses running AWS, including Netflix and Hulu, but increasingly more healthcare organisations.

We’ve been operating in the UK for eight years now and we have customers including NHS England, Geonomics England, UK Biobank. But also, NHS trusts who we’re either running solutions directly for, or through our partners.

BG: What is AWS doing in terms of digital transformation within healthcare?

AJ: We have many different services on AWS and we try to democratise access to those frontier technologies such as AI, machine learning and generative AI. My role and focus at AWS, given my background as a GP, is to really focus on the mission goals of healthcare. We seek to solve the problems that industries and our customers are experiencing.

There are a couple of areas which are significant interests of healthcare in general, and the NHS specifically. These are improved data management and gaining insights from data, and the use of new frontier AI technologies such as generative AI to improve the patient experience and the productivity of the workforce.

We’re also seeing a real drive from NHS organisations for things like secure data environments. We have over 300 services which enable the securing of data and over 100 services which enable the encryption of data, whether at rest or in transit. But they also have this ability to run analytics solutions, machine learning, whether it’s analytics tools that the NHS trusts want to bring, or whether it’s tools that we already have available.

BG: Are there any examples you can share?

AJ: Our partners include EMIS, who developed EMIS-X on AWS, which is the primary care dataset with 35 million patient records and 1.3 trillion clinical events in it. The scale of the cloud and the ability to do all this computation on it enables them to provide a service where their customers can do analytics on their data and gain insights from that.

In terms of generative AI, one of the services we’ve recently developed is called Health Scribe. This is a tool which helps GPs or other clinicians document a consultation.

When I was a GP and I spoke to patients, within that 10-minute conversation there would be lots of information that I would need to manage and diagnose. But once the patient had left, I’d have to type that into the system or fill in a form or dictate a letter, which is a huge amount of administration. Health Scribe takes the audio from that conversation and turns it into a clinical note. It’s a tool which is really helping clinicians reduce some of that workload.

We also have a partner called Teletracking who developed a care coordination centre, which enables trusts to more proactively manage bed occupancy and patient flow, including at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust.

BG: Do you work directly with primary care providers, or developers? Or both?

AJ: Around 90% of the tools and services that we develop are in response to customer demand. But that might be a partner, who is building a solution, or an NHS trust directly. We don’t really develop solutions ourselves.

Our main way of scaling is working with partners who build solutions on AWS. One of these is 3M Health Information Systems. We developed Health Scribe with them, and they will take that service and they will incorporate it within their solution to the provider.

Traditionally healthcare organisations have been buyers of software, rather than builders. But increasingly we’ve found that NHS organisations are starting to build their own solutions with our help, as it’s so fast and agile to build solutions on the cloud. In this instance we sometimes provide professional service teams who can help with this.

An example is Lancashire and South Cumbria ICS, who brought in a longitudinal patient record on AWS and then subsequently, built an analytics platform called Nexus during the pandemic, so they could identify areas within their population who might be at risk of severe disease from Covid.

BG: The safety of AI and the stewardship of data are key topics around digital healthcare. How do you ensure proper consideration for these?

AJ: Security is our first priority. It is a shared responsibility with our customers who control their own data, where it’s stored, how it’s how its secured.

On the responsible use of AI, we contributed to the AI safety summit in November of last year at Bletchley Park, which resulted in in the Bletchley Declaration. Also, Adam Selipsky, our CEO met President Biden with a number of other technology company leaders. We welcome the White House commitments which came out of that, such as committing to adversarial testing to identify societal and misuse risks of AI.

And, we’ve got Amazon SageMaker Clarify, a service which identifies bias within datasets, or within fully formed models to help remove those biases.

BG: You recently hosted a public sector day where you discussed the future of health and social care, what were the key themes that came up? 

AJ: A conclusion that we that we reached was that cloud-based technologies are absolutely vital to improve information sharing between public services to enable information which is collected by social care to be shared appropriately with relevant healthcare organisations, in order that the patient has a more seamless experience of public services.

And we also concluded that the private public sector partnership can really accelerate the adoption of new technologies and the development of new solutions. We certainly saw this over the pandemic, hundreds of new applications were developed on AWS during this time, and many of those were developed in 12 weeks. Once they were made live, they were then scaled to 10s of millions of patients and systems within a week.

BG: How do you see the future interaction of digital and healthcare?

AJ: With the increasing amount of digitisation, and the availability and democratisation of tools, such as AI, machine learning and generative AI solutions, we’re hoping to enable more organisations to take advantage of those powerful technologies make better use of their data, more effective interaction with their patients in a more personalised and relevant way.

BG: Is this a growth area?

AJ: Healthcare is in a position where it’s increasingly digitised over the last 20 years. And that presents huge opportunities for improved efficiency, improved productivity, and doing new innovative things. So, it’s absolutely a focus area for us. We’re really excited about the prospects.

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