Why investing in the healthcare sector means investing in AI

By Sean Durkin, head of enterprise, OpenText
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cognitive technologies have the potential to completely transform healthcare services. Faced with a growing population...

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cognitive technologies have the potential to completely transform healthcare services. Faced with a growing population and tight budget, the National Health Service has already started looking to AI to improve patient services and cut costs. In fact, a recent report from The Institute for Public Policy Research suggests that around 10% of annual NHS operational expenses – approximately £12.5bn – could be saved through AI and automation technologies.

The latest AI developments are often accompanied by uncertainty and doubt – particularly with regard to job security. However, with the World Economic Forum recently predicting that AI technology will create almost 60mn more jobs than it will eliminate by 2022, any potential cons are swiftly outweighed by the benefits of this technology – particularly for the healthcare sector.

Working with ‘co-bots’

AI will transform the workplace as menial tasks, and some non-routine jobs, are digitalised through robotics and process automation. However, it cannot replace people. The true value of AI will be found in it working alongside humans to ease the pressure across the healthcare system.

Professor Ian Cumming, the chief executive of Health Education England, recently stated that the NHS must embrace new technologies – or else face increasing its workforce by 50% by 2028. In his view, the health service will need to hire 600,000 more staff if it does not embrace AI. Given that AI use cases in healthcare range from examining X-rays, MRI and CAT scans to diagnosing cancer – and are only increasing as the technology develops further – it’s easy to see why AI is closely linked to the NHS’ future success.

Better data management

AI and cognitive systems, big data analytics and machine learning all play a role in enhanced data management. Better data leads to better algorithms, and better algorithms will lead to better data. By offloading data collection and processing to AI systems, healthcare organisations can become much more productive – optimising efficiency as well as really using their data lakes for sophisticated insights and better decision making.

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By implementing AI when tapping into the vast volumes of data available to them, healthcare organisations can gain access to real-time information. With this actionable intelligence to hand, they can deliver services that really do meet the needs and wants of UK citizens.

Trust in technology

The swift uptake of AI and data-driven technologies led the UK government to publish a code of conduct on these technologies in healthcare. Health minister Lord O’Shaughnessy recognised that we will all benefit by creating a “safe and trusted environment in which innovation can flourish”. The principles in this code act as “rules of engagement” between industry and the healthcare system “to deepen the trust between patients, clinicians, researchers and innovators.”

After all, no matter the benefits, AI use cases in healthcare will be limited if patients are not comfortable with the technology. However, technological advances have resulted in growing levels of trust amongst British citizens. In our recent survey into the attitudes of UK consumers towards this technology, 11 per cent confirmed they would trust the diagnosis of AI more, or just as much, as a doctor’s diagnosis. While a quarter (26 per cent) do not yet trust the technology, consumers do recognise the potential benefits of AI: one in five believe AI could already offer a quick diagnosis.

As the technology continues to develop, increased trust and reliance will follow. In fact, recent research from KPMG revealed that the NHS could play a key role in securing the UK’s ambition to remain a world leader in AI. While the majority of KPMG survey respondents wouldn’t share their personal data with the UK’s biggest organisations for AI purposes, 56 per cent would happily share their personal data with the NHS – if it led to improved service.

Clearly there is appetite for increased AI investment in the healthcare sector – with UK citizens willing to offer up their personal data to see improvements in this space. While AI technology will not transform the NHS overnight, it’s already leading to innovation and improved patient care. It’s now up to government and healthcare professionals to capitalise on this interest by investing in technology which can improve patient services, treat more people quickly, offer effective service at lower cost and generally help save lives.


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