Is AI the key to a 24-hour digital NHS in the UK?

Nuance calls for investment in Artificial Intelligence to deliver a truly world class digital National Health Service in the UK

This is a contributed piece by Frederik Brabant, MD and Chief Medical Information Officer at Nuance  


The National Health Service (NHS) is one of the UK’s most treasured organisations, providing free critical care to all, regardless of background or income.

The success of the NHS comes from the dedication of our hardworking doctors and nurses who deliver the highest quality services, despite increasing budget constraints.

Like all organisations, however, the NHS has ability and opportunity to improve. We have all recently seen the huge impact on the health service following the recent ransomware attack. Only by investing in an ambitious programme to tackle the legacy systems that put it at risk, alongside making investments to aid doctors and healthcare staff, can it truly provide world-class patient services.

Key to delivering this fully rounded quality patient service requires greater investment in digital transformation programmes, increased big data analytics to improve diagnosis and treatment, as well as bold initiatives to harness the power of the Internet of Things (IoT) in medical device management.

This approach is broadly backed by the House of Lords committee, which recently stated that the Government should make technology uptake an ‘urgent priority’.

Yet the report also made significant criticism of the pace of IT adoption across the health service. In particular, the committee were highly critical of the ‘slow’ uptake of digital innovation as the result of ‘inadequate levels of funding’ and ‘persistent cultures of complacency’. 

So how can the NHS improve patient care through technology without compromising its values as an organisation free and open to all? What will a truly digital NHS look like and how will this influence patient services in terms of accessibility and engagement for information, medication and support services?


Building a multi-channel health service

Far from betraying the principles of the NHS, strategic IT investment will help extend these values to a greater volume of people. This means focussing on technology that can free up resources by enabling patients to ‘self-serve’ where necessary and receive online consultancy to reduce waiting times and ensure emergency care is better targeted towards the most urgent of cases.

There are, however, already big plans in motion for improving the NHS through ambitious IT proposals.

The government has initiated its policy to make the service ‘paperless’ by 2020/22, ensuring all documents are digital to improve the flow of patient information.


Instant healthcare information

It was also recently announced that the NHS was investing in a new chatbot service to provide support and information for mothers. This interactive resource will provide approved guidance around breastfeeding, reducing the time spent on phone lines and relieving pressure on the health service, whilst ensuring mothers are given the information they need.

Anyone with children knows that the entire process is awash with moments of anxiety. Who can forget the late-night trips to the hospital or frantic phone calls during the first few months? The anxious rush for information - from breastfeeding advice to treating colic - is never ending and requires 24-hour support.

New parents don’t want to waste the time of their local hospital, but they do want advice and guidance to reassure them that everything will be OK. This is where the chatbots and automated information services come into play. Not only do these systems provide cost-effective around the clock support, they help prevent unnecessary hospital visits and reduce waiting times on inbound calls into the NHS helplines.

So building an even greater NHS must start with the patient experience front of mind, equipping them with the information they need, the moment they need it, through the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), voice recognition and chatbot services. This could also include automation of medication delivery, online video consultation and instant access to patient records for visibility into treatment programmes.


Driving NHS IT forward

The NHS is also making huge strides forward in other areas of self-service IT. Recent research uncovered by Nuance revealed that nearly half of NHS Trusts (43%) are investing in AI enabling patients to ‘self-help’ when accessing services. The information, obtained under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act revealed that many NHS Trusts are harnessing technology, such as virtual assistants, speech recognition technology and chatbots to ease the pressure on healthcare workers across their organisations.

The research also revealed a positive approach to mobility, with nearly half (47%) of trusts allowing staff to use mobile devices to develop patient records, saving those working in the community valuable travel time and expense.

Such initiatives may well be at an early stage of development, but set the scene for a bolder, strong health service.


An intelligent future

By harnessing the latest digital strategies, the NHS has the ability to radically improve its service to patients. The power of AI is limitless when applied to the health sector.

Whether it’s initial diagnosis, long-term care or complex treatment, AI can support Doctors and Nurses to make faster, more effective decisions. The end result is a healthcare service which empowers its professionals to deliver better services, instead of increased administration and paperwork.

So let’s start give our NHS the support it deserves by accelerating technology adoption, empowering health professionals and ensuring patients are given access to quality in person, online and through as many digital channels as possible.



Also read:
Can technology save the UK’s National Health Service?