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Artificial Intelligence acts as a heads-up display for doctors

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Interview with Professor Rachel Dunscombe, CEO, NHS Digital Academy, UK

At the Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare conference at the recently concluded Arab Health, Professor Rachel Dunscombe, CEO, NHS Digital Academy, London, UK, shed light on the skills required to embrace the changes in care that data and technology will enable. 

In an interview with Daily Dose, she said: "It really is a skills emergency because we need to educate and train 90 per cent of our workforce so that they have significant digital skills in the next 15 years. We need to start that journey quickly so that people can understand the toolset they have to deliver care differently and redesign it."

She also discussed Artificial Intelligence and governance. If digital technologies are going to go at scale and pace safely, there must be ways of monitoring, managing, and leveraging AI, she stressed.

When asked about how doctors can prepare for an AI-powered future, Dunscombe said that several of the doctors she has worked with have chosen to go for training programmes around data analytics and AI. "I worked with a cohort of doctors who did a postgraduate in data science. Some doctors are readying themselves by taking study leave and investigating further. I would encourage any doctor to find out more about what AI, automation and data can do for them. I would also encourage them to become proactive in engaging with it rather than being passive about it because AI can help improve the safety and quality of care. Augments are wonderful doctors. So, it's not about replacing but augmenting. I would urge doctors to become curious about how technologies can augment and assist their practice and allow them to do more of what they need to do well," she shared.

What can AI solve?

According to Dunscombe, different people have different definitions of AI. One of the simple things considered part of the AI family is automation and robotic processes. For example, it can replicate data across other systems saving precious time for doctors. Other things in the AI space include algorithms that can pick up unusual patterns and detect when something may not be right, and assist in making decisions.

"I think that we will see AI assisting doctors in spotting exceptions and bringing to light the most important information about the patient. It will almost serve as a heads-up display seen in aircraft. So, I think we are going see some of this emerging in the coming five years," she added. 

AI also has a role to play when it comes to personalised care. For instance, if a patient's blood pressure says it's 140 over 85, that may be fine for some. But for certain patients with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes or renal failure, that may trigger a need to see somebody. This is where personalised care kicks in. By having the digital twin of the patient, it is easy to compare what is known about the patient and if they require immediate care. It allows for monitoring those exceptions on a personal basis. This also allows to use resources better and doctors to see patients when needed and drive efficiency.

Some other technology trends that are coming to the fore include those out of the hospital, where people are self-caring and self-managing in their homes. This is typically where data is being created by sensors or the Internet of Things and creates an ecosystem for patient enablement. Together, these will enable different models of care in the home and in the community.

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Professor Rachel Dunscombe

Another upcoming growth area is the smart routing of clinicians outside of the hospital. This involves smart placement of medical devices in the community and the movement of medicines in the community, which Dunscombe describes as "non-hospital" logistics. She gave the example of the UK, where this has improved nursing efficiency between 20 and 26 per cent by matching the patient's needs to the skills of the nurse and routing them efficiently.

"The capacity and demand in the community and the smart use of resources is a new horizon that I find exciting. This is backed by smart algorithms and cloud-based processing of capacity and demand. Powerful analytics are providing the optimal way of dealing with what we need to do in the community with the workforce we've got," she highlighted. 

Like any other industry, the future of AI in healthcare, said Dunscombe, will take several decades to leverage fully. But she stressed that it's essential to have a complete understanding of how it will be leveraged and governed. 

"I sometimes see AI as a junior doctor or nurse. It's something you need to audit, supervise, and look at the performance of. But, this is something that we can harness and leverage using good governance. I think that is the way that we move forward together. In the future, AI is something that augments our healthcare system and supports us to do better. I am very optimistic that if we tackle this with the right speed, this will enable us to be more efficient and effective," she concluded.

NHS Digital Academy

The NHS Digital Academy educates healthcare professionals to be ready to redesign the healthcare system and enable digital processes. Participants learn about AI, analytics, and patient-centred design. "It's about preparing them as transformational change leaders with evidence and a rigorous academic curriculum, based in the workplace, so they're doing as they learn. It's creating t transformational leaders catalytically. We work with them for a year and a half say, and then they are ready to self-sustain their transformational learning journey in their organisation. The Academy is creating the people that will lead the change," said Dunscombe.

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