robot hand held by a doctor

Practice

How can Artificial Intelligence help improve patient care?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a revolutionary aspect in the field of computer science, a piece of technology that learns for itself and is constantly evolving. This development has enabled computers the ability to perform tasks that mimic human characteristics involving problem solving, decision making and various perceptions. The UK government recently announced a £250 million investment in a National Artificial Intelligence Lab to improve the health and lives of patients. So what is the potential of AI in the delivery of healthcare?

How can AI support humans, and what are the limitations?

Artificial intelligence has proven its worth in the sectors of banking and finance, education, police (cybersecurity), marketing (Big Data, ecommerce) and even home use. 

Humans use past experiences and prior knowledge to help us make sense of new situations, but computers lack this ability. To overcome this limitation, AI developers introduce ‘input-dependent uncertainty’ which creates a feature that uses a given input to help learn larger variances that the computer wouldn’t otherwise have known. This is done through tasks and situations unfamiliar to it. In a way this will mimic the robot’s version of a human’s reconstructive memory, a way to help make unfamiliar situations understandable. This is how the AI improves and gains new incoming information which it can store and use for future reference. Through these advancements, AI is continually learning, and decision making becomes more efficient through analysing a breadth of situations. 

AI will not replace the judgment of our clinicians, but it has the ability to streamline, revolutionise and support their decision making.

However, there are limitations to this software. For example, how can a computer deal with the ethical decisions made by humans, such as deciding which patient is more in need of a transplant? And how can it accurately make predictions when situations and circumstances are ever-changing?

Another challenge for AI is the ability to mimic a human in recognising social and physical cues, such as detecting emotions conveyed by facial movements within a particular social context. AI has advanced in this area: by taking facial expressions and synchronisation between two people having a conversation, researchers have been able to develop templates which allow the computer to cross reference the positioning of facial features to emotions on a database. The system will then save new input to store in the database in order to develop a more realistic depiction of emotions that humans convey. 

AI in the healthcare context

The future is promising. We want computers to evolve through human application and design to use real world problems, with database-analysed responses. These human-like characteristics are desirable, alongside maintaining highly analytical and accurate data mechanisms, to be able negotiate problems, like humans, more efficiently. 

In June this year NHS England CEO, Simon Stevens, called upon tech firms to help the health service become a world leader in the use of AI and machine learning. The Reform Health Conference gave speakers the chance to call globally for revolutionising our current services and assess how AI can be targeted across the NHS from April 2020 and beyond, supporting the delivery of the NHS’s Five Year Forward View.

Reduced waiting times, cutting edge diagnostics, tailored treatments, efficiencies and funding with the healthcare service and triaging patients more appropriately are some of the benefits that AI might bring to the NHS. 

Medical imaging has led in this area, with clinical trials proving that AIs compare favourably with humans at detecting lung and skin cancers and more than 50 eye conditions from scans. 

The Royal Free Hospital and Moorfields Eye Hospital in London have teamed up with Google Health UK, to explore and implement the benefits of innovations that AI offers to clinicians and patients. Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust are recruiting digital champions and have made an exciting step in appointing a Head of Clinical Artificial Intelligence. AI technology has been used to create a command centre to improve patient flow across hospitals, a challenge which clinical practitioners face daily. 

AI will not replace the judgment of our clinicians today, but it has the ability to streamline, revolutionise and support their decision making. Research in AI in a healthcare context is encouraging to see and is a welcome opportunity for the NHS and the healthcare of our nation. With AI moving past its infancy stages through different sectors of our economy, its breakthrough developments have the potential to take healthcare and the NHS forward. 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the UKCPA or its members. We encourage readers to follow links and references to primary research papers and guidance.

Competing interest statement: 

The author declares: no support from any organisation for the submitted work; no financial relationships with any organisations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous three years; no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.

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