Imagine you are sitting in a hospital waiting room. You’ve been scanned for a pain in your ankle that has been bothering you for some time, the scan was managed by a nurse who quickly and easily used the CT machine to focus on the area of pain as identified on your referral from your GP.
So far so good right?
But lets say you were then told by the nurse that the findings were going to be put straight into the hospital’s AI platform to diagnose the cause, severity and likelihood of the pain getting worse? What if the nurse also advised that the platform would decide if it needed to request a consultant to take a further look at the scan – and if so you would be seen within an hour, if not you would receive a text message advising of the next steps which may involve rest, medication or referral back to your GP or a physio?
Even as recently as two years ago, the very thought would have startled many of us, but the growing use of ‘AI’ and technologies that utilise machine learning to its (current) full capability mean that inevitably the NHS simply must start looking at AI driven technology to investigate, understand and hopefully address some of the most pressing challenges caused by an increasingly ageing and therefore demanding population.
Whilst an initial reaction may be – “Well, this means less nurses, a more impersonal level of care and cost savings”, if we consider AI in terms of working with Human Intelligence and not replacing it – we could actually (and I’m not suggesting this will be the case within the NHS, which is unfortunately used as a political football) see improved care and more effective and focused care and human interactions for those who really need the support of our medical professionals.
The NHS are using AI now, today and looking to blend it with real human care and empathy.
As this article in The Guardian outlines – University College London Hospitals (UCLH) and the Alan Turing Institute are working together to develop AI services and solutions that fit within a patient’s relationship and experience with the trust.
By using AI at the right point (for example, identifying the conditions in which someone may miss an appointment or indeed could be more susceptible to further infection), the trust believes that they will be able to better assign their skilled and experienced human resources to the right and most effective point in the patients ‘journey’.
There are many challenges to overcome – not least individual privacy (for which in a future post I will talk about ‘Willing openness’), network and system security and of course, ‘learned helplessness’ – where humans rely so much on computers to inform decision making that they forget their own knowledge. We should rather see Artificial Intelligence as Artificial Supported Human Intelligence, which the NHS are starting to move towards. This opens the door to improved and enhanced care and a much more human approach to supporting those that need it.
So, AI improving humans capability to learn and support each other rather than replacing it? That might just catch on.