GlobalData will be publishing its top ten predictions for UK health and social care in the New Year but until then, as we edge ever closer to the end of a very eventful year, we thought we’d give a sneak peek into a few technologies that we believe will be making an impact and should be on your radar over the coming months.
Better connectivity drives investment in telemedicine/telecare
Fibre broadband connectivity, especially for rural areas, was the key technological focal point of this year’s general election across multiple manifestos. The benefit stated by most was that it would enable access to online public services but it reaches far beyond just this. Better connectivity will drive investment in telemedicine/telecare technologies such as video consultations, remote patient monitoring and home automation. Perhaps one of the biggest beneficiaries will be smart speakers, which continue to evolve with an expanding ecosystem of complementary devices and skills.
Alongside this, 5G continues its march into mainstream adoption, which could result in an uptick of wearable device adoption as well as innovations for the ambulatory sector. One recent example was at University Hospitals Birmingham whereby BT adopted a remote-controlled ultrasound scanner, which allowed a doctor to remotely direct a paramedic’s hand via a special glove and transmit results in real-time.
Robotic Process Automation helps the staffing crisis
There has been wide coverage of the staffing shortage within the UK such as the number of nursing vacancies reported at around 44,000. Despite pledges by The Conservatives to address this issue, there is likely to still be a shortfall, especially given the new hospitals that are to be built. This will force the NHS to look more closely into other ways to more efficiently utilise the workforce it has at its disposal.
One of the ways the NHS will try to stay afloat will be the re-skilling of its personnel. More specifically, it will look to give more responsibilities to administrative and trainee staff. This was evidenced by Advanced at HETT19 where it exhibited a training programme to enable receptionists to perform basic triage and signposting activities. This in turn will free up trained and skilled clinicians to focus on providing care to their patients.
In parallel with this, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) will step into the limelight. RPA automates the mundane, repetitive and time-consuming tasks and processes that burden personnel across all industries including healthcare. Many use cases of RPA have thus far been tactical as buyers remain sceptical of its true value but if it can continue to derive achievable results by saving precious clinician hours then we will see RPA start to be baked into more well-rounded and strategic action plans.
The NHS opens the door to its data for AI purposes
Unrestricted access to UK medical records is reported to be worth almost £10bn annually. “Outside” access to NHS data is not a new concept however. In 2014, Google acquired London-based Artificial Intelligence (AI) company; DeepMind. In 2019, multiple Trusts including The Royal Free Hospital NHS Trust signed up with DeepMind to transfer their existing data deals to its parent company. They have since used this type of data to develop a mobile app called Streams, which notifies clinicians immediately when test results show a patient is at risk of becoming seriously ill and provides the necessary information to take action.
When it comes to the applications of AI on rich data sets, the sky is the limit and analytics efforts will be, theoretically, even more potent in improving population health. For this to happen however, large masses of accessible data are needed.
The initial view was that the entire NHS data store would not be opened up in one big-bang and instead, pockets would be made available for specific use cases. Since then however, there have been meetings between the NHS and large technology and pharmaceutical firms to discuss how these records could be accessed and utilised. Wider access may therefore occur sooner than anticipated. Attendees to this meeting, organised by the Office of Life Sciences, included the NHS, NHSX, NHS Digital, Amazon, the British Heart Foundation, Microsoft, System C and AstraZeneca. An interesting takeaway from the session was that the NHS may not even receive a direct return but instead just benefit from the resulting innovation within the wider healthcare system.
Initiatives such as the Local Health and Care Record Exemplar (LHCRE) programme and the 10,000 Genome Project have laid the groundwork for the initial stages of the accessible longitudinal patient record. Investments in digital innovation hubs and AI labs along with the Conservative’s pledge for the UK to become a ‘leading global hub for life sciences’ all suggest that the idea of commercialising NHS data has been brewing for a while.
There are obvious concerns with this opening up of health data, including data privacy, data security, patient consent and appropriate usage. When cybersecurity threats show no signs of slowing down, the fact that medical information can be worth ten times more than credit card information on the dark web makes seemingly noble initiatives like this even scarier. The entry of large corporations into parts of the NHS will also further concerns of privatisation and so, whilst the potential medical innovations are impressive, we must tread carefully and not simply submit to the flickering pound signs in front of our eyes.