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The role of data and AI in healthcare

Published 26 March 2018

NHS and industry leaders explored the biggest challenges in healthcare IT at the HIMSS UK Executive Leadership Summit


The HIMSS UK Executive Leadership Summit last week brought together healthcare professionals to discuss data's role in health systems.

The conference provided the opportunities for health and care professionals to learn, network and share best practice around delivering improved patient outcomes and efficiencies through technology and data.

Panellists and attendees included chief information officers (CIOs) and chief clinical information officers (CCIOs) in the NHS, leaders from NHS England and NHS Digital and health IT innovators from industry.

HIMSS UK is an organisation focused on transforming healthcare through IT and data engaging with healthcare professionals in more than 30 countries.

Artificial intelligence (AI) could be used by NHS to target treatment by predicting which individuals or groups might be at risk of illness, sending patients to the most appropriate services and then delivering better outcomes for them.

This transforming potential of AI was outlined at the conference, in particular exploring the  revolutionary opportunity for algorithms and data in healthcare.

The conference also explored the opportunities and challenges impacting data-driven transformation in the NHS.

Professor Daniel Ray - Director of Data Science at NHS Digital talked about moves to enhance the organisation’s ability to enable its customers to find and appropriately access the data they need.

"We want to get data out quicker and faster. We want to push the right data to the right people, rather than them having to collate it," Ray said.

He added, “We are making improvements in the ways our customers can access data. These are designed to simplify the process, speeding it up and increasing efficiency, whilst not losing any of the important checks and balances to keep information secure.”

“AI presents an opportunity for the NHS as it has the potential to improve care. However, there are various challenges around AI, including around the way in which algorithms change over time,” he  said.

In an interview with Government Computing about the National Data Services Platform,  Ray said that the platform is a new investment in data technology to enable NHS Digital specialists to process data faster, more efficiently and available to their customers in more effective and innovate ways as well as improving governance around how they access data.

Discussing some of the key component parts and targets of the data platform, Ray said, “We have a number of components parts of the Data Services Platform, including better co-processing of data, new way of accessing it through  data access environments, de-identification, and being able to link data to a linkage of data together.”   

Mark Davies, chief medical officer of HIMSS UK said, “Introducing AI into the NHS will be like introducing any new drug to treat a disease. Just like a new drug it will be assessed for benefits and side effects before it is used for real and once in use its impact will be monitored”.

Davies said, “External, trusted companies will get to access the data within the confines of strict rules. External innovative companies can sell their software, but the NHS will set the rules and the public should have the right to remain in control.

“Every day I see a frightening level of safety critical incidents within the walls of NHS buildings which simply would not happen if we had the better use of data to predict and prevent errors. The right AI has a big part to play in that,” he said.

Commenting on the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Davies said, “This week the news about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica has made it even more important that NHS leaders speak out and defend the case for sharing data.  

“When scandal breaks, the thought of sharing the most intimate details about yourself can appear daunting and dangerous, but that is only when the safeguards aren’t in place and the methods are too complex. When the NHS asks you to share, it does so clearly and transparently so you know whose hands it will be in, giving you the opportunity to object if you are not happy." Davies added.

Davies said, “We trust our NHS with our lives, so why not help it protect us further by sharing information that can tell it a complete picture about individual and population health. Healthcare is an information based service and it is just not possible without appropriately shared data.”

Amy Galea - Deputy Director, Transforming Health Systems, NHS England, discussing data's role in health systems, said, "The NHS is more like a collection of organisations. Linking data could give us the potential to be a truly National Health Service.

“Integration is not just about merging services, it’s about understanding what different cohorts of people within a population need and then thinking about that pathway from beginning to end,” Galea added.

Dr Steven Laitner, GP and Freelance Health Consultant gave a presentation about population health management and its role in the personalisation of care at the levels of communities, cohorts and citizens.

Population segmentation techniques identify the health and care needs of and within populations, enabling integrated care systems to tailor new care models to communities, cohorts of patient with similar needs and individuals. This type of analysis also supports and informs the budgets for delivering new care models.

Dr Laitner discussed with Government Computing the benefits of AI for the healthcare system. Laitner said AI “gives us the potential to understand the needs of populations, groups of people in the population and individuals better before we get to a stage of offering services to people. So almost as a workup prior to dealing with people directly we could use AI to get much more information about them and understand their preventative, on-going and urgent care needs much better before we see them, and also improve our potential for non-face to face methods of healthcare delivery”.

Dr Dominic King, Clinical Lead and Senior Research Scientist, DeepMind, also discussed the potential and challenge of AI-enabled healthcare.

King discussed the work of DeepMind Health with hospitals on mobile tools and AI research to help get patients from test to treatment as quickly and accurately as possible.

He outlined the positive effects of apps like Streams, currently in use at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, that use mobile technology to send immediate alerts to clinicians when a patient deteriorates.

DeepMind is currently undertaking research partnerships with hospital groups Moorfields and University College London Hospital, exploring whether AI techniques can be used effectively and safely to support nurses and doctors.

For example, the DeepMind collaboration with Moorfields, used one million de-personalised digital eye scans to explore whether AI tools can learn to safely and effectively identify conditions that cause sight loss.

The conference also discussed findings from the Reform: Thinking On Its Own: AI in the NHS study. Reform’s report illustrates the areas where AI could help the NHS become more efficient and deliver better outcomes for patients. It also highlights the main barriers to the implementation of this technology and suggests some potential solutions.


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