Excerpts from an article from ZDnet: The rise of artificial intelligence is set to reshape the health sector as we know it, from back office to doctor’s office.
The current UK government has made its vision for artificial intelligence use in the NHS very clear. It wants AI, data and innovation to “transform the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of chronic diseases by 2030”, with the UK to be “at the forefront of the use of AI and data in early diagnosis, innovation, prevention and treatment”.
Under this vision, AIs could ultimately become the first point of contact for the sick instead of a human doctor, could help healthcare professionals to diagnose medical conditions, and even monitor individuals’ health by analysing data from their wearable devices or smart-home sensors.
It’s a huge ambition for a set of technologies that are still developing, and whose use is relatively restricted in the health service today. Can AI really make a difference to the future of the NHS?
Certainly there are signs of a growing appetite in the health service for AI technology: around half of NHS trusts are now said to be investing in artificial intelligence in some form.
To date, that adoption has been broadly with a view to achieve one of two aims: to improve clinical practice, using AI to help doctors and other medical personnel with their diagnoses, or to improve administration and support, using AI to streamline day-to-day office management and resource allocation.
On the pure health side, there are also a number of trial projects that use various elements of AI and machine learning. The NHS’ most visible uses of AI in this field are those where it’s collaborating with Google’s DeepMind AI arm: DeepMind has partnered with the likes of the Moorfields Eye Hospital to train an AI to scan images of patients’ retinas for signs of eye disease and make treatment recommendations, and learning to assist with radiotherapy planning by working with University College London Hospitals trust.
The use of AI in work with patients will be slower to develop of the two areas, as far more testing will be needed, and various ethical concerns will need working out. However, there are a handful of specific clinical use cases where use of AI is likely to see stronger take-up in the near future, such as reading scans to check for evidence of new disease, or the progression of an existing condition. With enough solid data, AIs should be able to read scans faster than human doctors, and with at least the same level of accuracy.
The only fly in that particular ointment is finding enough high quality patient data.
While the NHS has the potential to do great things with AI, as is so often the case, it needs to sort out the IT basics first.
In a recent report into AI use in the NHS by think-tank Reform said the NHS needs to move forward with digital plans and increase the interoperability of its current IT systems to make sure that in the future they all stick to open standards, as well as looking at next steps like developing a plan for the integration of new forms of data generated by wearables and sensors at home.
Another key challenge ahead for AI is convincing both the budget-holders and clinicians of its benefits, and overcoming their concerns — worries about the costs from administrators, worries about patient care quality from doctors.
For now, the discussions around deploying AI in a clinical context are chiefly around using artificial intelligence to support doctors in their decision making, rather than to take over the job of diagnosing and treating from them.
However, doctors are well aware of how their job is likely to change with the spread of AI, and seem to be taking a guardedly optimistic stance, hoping it will allow them to spend more time with their patients and less time on routine tasks such as calculating drug dose.
Arguably, AI could reshape how both doctors and patients experience healthcare, with artificial intelligence working to advance the health side of the equation, while medical professionals focus on improving care. Until a company comes up with an algorithm for a thoughtful and understanding bedside manner, there is likely to be plenty of room for doctors and AI to co-exist.