Artificial Intelligence (AI) is “the ability of a computer or other machine to perform actions thought to require intelligence.”
AI is therefore an umbrella term for a computer being able to make decisions. The way in which ‘it’ does this, how it gathers data, interprets and produces an output, is brought about in different ways.
Many systems we use today use technology supported by AI infrastructures, which often go unnoticed. Amazon’s Alexa is an example. The computer recognises spoken word and can respond. AI is beginning to be used in Medicine and has many potential applications.
There are several examples of how AI is being adopted for Medicine, both in the UK and internationally:
AI systems are being designed to accurately diagnose disease from medical imaging scans and microscope slides.
Radiotherapy normally uses generic dose prescriptions that don’t consider the characteristics of individual tumours. However, an AI framework has been developed to use a patient’s CT scans and electronic health records to create a specific individualised dose.
Virtual nursing could be implemented in line with the NHS 111 service, however, it’s worth considering the general public opinion on talking to a robot – would the benefits of having no waiting time sway people’s view?
Robots have been developed, which are able to carry out routine operations. Recent research has shown that these surgeries can have up to a five-fold reduction in surgical complications. This, partnered with the decrease in staff required and time saved, could be a promising investment for the future.
The Department of Health recently announced a partnership between the NHS and Amazon’s Alexa, so that Alexa now automatically searches NHS websites when asked medical questions.
By integrating the NHS website content directly into Alexa’s core knowledge base, it is able to reach a far wider user base as users do not need to enable this skill in advance.
The government is hoping this will reduce demand on Doctors and will benefit elderly people, blind people and people that cannot easily search for health advice on the internet. Some people are concerned about how any confidential data relating to patient queries will be stored but Amazon has confirmed all data will be kept confidential and encrypted.
A great deal of diagnosis is about recognising patterns. For example, radiologists will look at x-ray images to spot potential disease. However, if we spot subtler patterns earlier, perhaps the disease could be diagnosed at an earlier stage.
This is where AI comes in – computers can be programmed to read data. Using algorithms, very subtle changes can be detected, either as the precursor of a disease or before it has propagated.
Currently, the NHS is still very reliant on paper files and most of its IT systems are not based on open standards; limiting the exchange of data and information across the NHS.
If the NHS wants to use accurate AI algorithms there needs to be an improvement in how data is collected and stored and in the quality of the data, as these algorithms are reliant on the data they are fed.
The government aims to make the NHS a world-leader in healthcare innovation and recognises the importance of AI. Whilst there are significant costs of developing these systems, there are often projected savings in the long run. When we consider the current state of the NHS and the problems it faces, it seems that AI systems have come at the perfect time.
The benefits of AI to the NHS were published by reform.uk in their Thinking on its own: AI in the NHS . This piece states: “AI could support the delivery of the NHS’s Five-Year Forward View… AI could help address the health and wellbeing gap by predicting which individuals or groups of individuals are at risk of illness and allow the NHS to target treatment more effectively towards them”.
However, it’s not as easy as it all sounds. The public is wary about how their data is used, especially the levels of personal information required. The NHS will need to improve its IT systems and collect the right type of data in the right format to harness the full potential of AI.
AI may come up during your interview as ethics questions. Some example questions include:
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