The chairman of the Commons Science and Technology Committee has said the rewards of using smart machines in the NHS could be “immense”.
Norman Lamb said AI could help the NHS save costs and diagnose patients more quickly. But he added that patient privacy would need to be protected, and hospitals would need a “fair deal” from the technology companies which would implement the systems.
AI Could Diagnose Breast Cast 30 Times Faster Than a Human
Meanwhile, a report by the Reform think-tank said AI can be used to improve diagnoses. Reform believes AI could diagnose breast cast 30 times faster than a human and do so more accurately.
But the think-tank added that AI should enable better patient care, and should not be used as a decision-making tool.
Reform also said AI can be used to improve the targeting of treatment. Algorithms could predict which individuals or groups of patients are at risk of sickness, send them to the right service providers, or promote “self-care”, the organisation said.
AI Could Save Cash-Strapped NHS Money
Reform added that AI can save the cash-strapped NHS money by keeping patients out of hospital when they do not need to be there, reducing administrative work and helping people to manage chronic conditions.
Recognising fears around potential job losses, Lamb told The Independent newspaper: “Recruiting sufficient people is a massive challenge. We’ve got vast, tens of thousands of vacancies across the system.
“The idea that introducing processes that enable things to be done with fewer people, I don’t think should cause a problem, because there will always be a demand for people to work in the NHS.”
So far, only a few NHS trusts have implemented AI systems, which recognise the value but “lack clarity about both the strategic direction to take and where to start”, according to Reform.
One example is Moorefields Eye Hospital, which uses AI from Google’s DeepMind to identify diseases from images inside the eye.
Eleonora Harwich, Reform’s head of digital and technology innovation, said: “The NHS has experienced difficulties in the past in realising the benefits of technology.
“Given the big hype around AI, there would be a danger of replicating past mistakes, when a radically different approach to technological adoption is required.”
NHS ‘Teetering on the Brink of Collapse’
Lamb told The Independent: “If we persist in teetering on the brink of collapse, as we are at the moment, with a system that’s under-resourced, where any additional money just goes to propping up a dysfunctional system, we won’t be able to take advantage of what AI could offer us.
“This does involve quite a significant up-front investment.”
He highlighted the challenge of data accuracy: “If data is not inputted accurately or if there is no consistent approach across a system, then the AI can play havoc because it’s operating on the basis of wrong information,” Lamb said.
Cyber Breaches a Concern
Security is also a concern. Last year the NHS suffered breaches as a result of the WannaCry ransomware. The hack was blamed on the NHS’ antiquated computer hardware and infrastructure.
Lamb said: “There are risks out there, particularly around privacy, we’ve got to make sure people are protected.
“The digitisation of the NHS has to be done in a way that guarantees the safety of data and that, again, requires investment. This can’t be done on the cheap.
“And trust is going to be of central importance — if we lose the trust of people then we won’t be able to realise the great opportunities ahead of us.”