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Getting the NHS ready for AI and robotics

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced a review of NHS staff training needs to prepare them to make the most of new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics.

"We have a great opportunity to get smarter about the way we are using AI and machine learning with datasets to improve the quality of clinical care." So said NHS Chief Executive Simon Stevens in his keynote speech at the Health and Care Innovation Expo in September 2017.

However, installing revolutionary new AI and robotics technology is only part of the picture. It's just as important to make sure that NHS staff are properly trained to make the best use of it. That's why the Health Secretary has appointed cardiologist, genetics and digital medicine expert Dr Eric Topol to report on the opportunities offered by AI and robotics, as well as looking at the additional skills needed in the future by doctors, nurses and even those in Allied Health jobs to take full advantage of those opportunities.

AI is increasingly being used in healthcare. A recent editorial in The Lancet focused on the potential of AI to interpret clinical data more quickly and more accurately. Imperial College London's Dr Ben Glocker has received a European Research Council grant to develop AI technology which supports radiographers and radiologists with automated analysis of scans and cross-referencing of results. Other advances in the pipeline include: nanobots which could be injected into the bloodstream to deliver chemotherapy and other treatments more effectively; robotic surgery simulators to help with training; and robotic nursing assistants to help with tasks such as safely moving patients from or into a bed or wheelchair.

Earlier this year a report by the healthcare think-tank Reform set out the areas where AI could help the NHS become more efficient and deliver better outcomes for patients. The report's authors concluded that AI could support the delivery of the NHS Five Year Forward View by enabling more treatment to be targeted more effectively, giving health professionals and patients access to cutting edge diagnostics and treatment, and automating tasks to deliver greater efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

"The potential gain is immense," said Norman Lamb, Chairman of the Commons Science and Technology Committee. "If a diagnosis of breast cancer is more accurate using AI than using people on their own then do we really want to stick to a less accurate diagnosis? I don't think there's an option here."

"We know artificial intelligence, digital medicine and genomics will have an enormous impact for improving the efficiency and precision in healthcare, " commented Dr Topol. "Our review will focus on the extraordinary opportunities to leverage these technologies for the healthcare workforce and power a sustainable and vibrant NHS."

What do you think about incorporating technology into the NHS? We’d love to know what you think – let us know using the comments box
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