Report Says 90% of NHS Jobs Will Need Digital Skills, But AI and Robotics Could Enhance Services

A report, commissioned by health secretary Matt Hancock and led by US academic Eric Topol, has found that even though AI and robotics will enhance healthcare services, 90% of NHS staff will require fresh digital skills within 20-years.

Robotics and AI Enhancements

According to the report, although there has been fear that the implementation of AI and robotics to the NHS could be a step towards replacing human practitioners, they will in fact enhance services.

Smart Speakers Could Help

For example, the use of smart digital assistants such as Alexa and Siri could free-up more time for doctors which could be spent with patients. It is anticipated that smart speakers could reduce time spent on paperwork, possibly saving 5.7 million hours of GPs' time across the country per year.

Mental Health Triage Bots?

The suggestion that smart speakers could somehow be used as effective "mental health triage bots" by engaging in conversations while analysing text and audio for any suicidal ideas and emotions has been dismissed by mental health professionals. A smart speaker may be capable of listening and talking but as mental health professionals point out, smart speakers can’t pick up many of the visual cues that a skilled human professional can, they can’t quickly develop a relationship with a patient (as is needed in mental health assessment situations), and they may not be particularly useful in a situation where a patient is disordered.

Patient Records

The report indicates that smart speakers could also enhance the capabilities of NHS workers to update patient records.

Three Main Changes

In the report, Mr Topol predicts how, over the next 20 years there will be three main developments that will change patients lives, and how training should begin now to ensure that NHS staff have the skills to make the most of those changes going forward. According to Eric Topol, who is a cardiologist, geneticist, and digital medicine researcher, the three main changes will be:

Patients having their genome sequenced. This can help determine things like a person’s predisposition to certain diseases and how they will respond to medication or treatment.
Patients being able to generate and interpret much more of their own health data at home.
AI helping to exponentially increase the speed, accuracy and scalability of medical data interpretation.
Digital Appointments

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who commissioned the report, has also called on GP practices in the UK to be able to offer digital appointments within five years e.g. using Skype and Google.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

According to this report, AI, robotics and other new technologies could provide enhancements that may enable patients to be ultimately better informed about their own medical position and may help NHS staff to deliver a better quality of service while freeing them from spending too much time on paperwork and spending that time instead with patients.

There is, however, a challenge to be met in terms of making sure that NHS staff receive training that will enable them to make the best use of new digital technologies, and this will need planning and will have cost implications.

It is also important to consider, however, that the amount of data gathered about patients e.g. genomic information could be intrusive and has security and privacy risks. Also, if AI bots are used to handle some communications with patients, those patients need to be informed that they are communicating with a bot and not a person. Too much reliance on technological innovation could also bring some inequalities. For example, poorer people and ethnic minorities have been shown to have a lower uptake of things like digital health records.

Posted by Andrew Sewell,

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