Digitalising the Doctors orders

Laura Williams

A collaborative event hosted last month at MHP, in association with Ellwood Atfield and the Royal College of General Practitioners, sparked discussion on how artificial intelligence might be able to square the circle between improving GP care and resolving workforce inequalities within the primary care system.

The event was very timely with Matt Hancock’s speech, which established that further investment in AI technology will remain a strategic priority for the NHS to move forward. His 28th January speech repeated his view that AI technology has the potential to save millions in the cost of coding and analysing data, so freeing up staff time. “We want to allow people the chance to do more of what they came into healthcare to do: looking after others and solving problems.”

AI in healthcare remains an ambiguous subject. The biggest question is how can technology be utilised to get the basics right? Some GP Practices have introduced a triage model or a patient data app service, which allows patients to access their personal data and take control of how they receive care. Reducing pressure, workforce stresses and enabling clinicians to spend quality time with patients are key priorities within our hospitals, but how can AI technology lend a helping hand to revolutionise ways of working in GP Practices?

Rebuild relationships: AI is being used as an innovator to help drive forward predicative and anticipatory clinical care. An attendee stressed the importance of building a partnership between AI and human intelligence. AI technology can be utilised to predict and read test results or automate data-led tasks, but clinicians shouldn’t use AI technology to place limitations on contact time. Embracing AI technology allows doctors to effectively manage their time, spending less time glued to a screen and more contact time to build repour with patients.

Enhance education: GPs in the room agreed that more education and resources are needed to encourage doctors to utilise AI technology within their work. The phrase ‘doctors will never be replaced by machines, but doctors who do not use machines will be replaced by doctors who do’ highlighted that further investment is needed to convince doctors that using AI has beneficial outcomes to help manage clinical workloads and productivity. The panel compared introducing AI to how utilising MRI scanning was introduced into the health service. GPs need to feel reassured and convinced that using AI will positively impact their workload. Further work needs to be done to build trust in the primary care system to ensure clinicians are informed of the latest developments in AI technology.

Similarly, consideration should be given to how to position AI to enhance diagnostic or imaging services or to play a greater role within public health. For example, the panel discussed the potential of using air quality data or urban design to inform and help make public health decisions.

Taking control: A representative of NHSX discussed how patients can take control of their own data, including managing their own personal health data, wellbeing, and interactions with their GPs. AI helps identify those people with greater clinical leads, especially those who are bounced around the NHS or health system. Great Ormond Street Hospital leads a machine data perspective programme which allows rare disease patients to be paired with the correct specialist more quickly based on data findings. The patient is made to feel more in control. Technology can enhance patient engagement and empowers them to digest the facts regarding their diagnosis and treatment. It’s a shift in the way we practice medicine.’

The panel for the discussion: Michael Macdonnell, Natalie Banner, Martin Marshall, Sarah Deeny and Indra Joshi
The audience from our event on AI hosted by MHP Communications in association with Ellwood Atfield and the Royal College of General Practitioners

The panel concluded the evening by sharing their view on what was needed to implement a successful strategy to embed AI programme in GP Practices. It’s clear that AI has the power to transform the delivery of services, but only if practical and cultural challenges within the primary care system are addressed.

A cultural shift is needed within the profession. More resources are needed to provide doctors with the correct education and training to feel confident to practice using AI technology. Moving away from traditional methods such as printing referral forms and embracing new AI tools and software will improve cross-learning opportunities and strengthen clinician relationships across the primary care network.

Overall investment in the health service will allow clinicians to adopt technologies in the right way. Matt Hancock’s speech was an indicator that investment in the AI field will allow the NHS to become more sustainable and relieve pressure from a stretched workforce. Greater investment will allow digitalised patient records to become a reality and improving data collection tasks such as manual coding will allow administrative work to become streamlined and consistent throughout NHS Trusts and surgeries across the country. Finding innovative hubs across the country will maximise funding opportunities and will allow AI programmes to become a reality.

Seeing patients as partners in their care will give them the opportunity to access their health data. This will allow patients to feel empowered to access their care records and treatment plans at the touch of their fingertips, allowing them to feel confident that they can access the relevant support in times of need and ahead of visits to their local GP practice.

AI technology in modern medicine will give back the gift of time to our clinicians and allow them to care and provide even more support to their patients.

Watch the Artificial Intelligence in General Practice Livestream here.