By Andreas Haimböck-Tichy – Director, Healthcare and Life Sciences, IBM UK and Ireland.
There is no shortage of opportunities for technology to revolutionise the UK health sector, but let’s start with just one example: cancer treatment.
On the surface, one of the simplest opportunities to improve cancer outcomes in the UK is to increase the number of cancer screenings. This could help the NHS to diagnose cancer earlier, making it easier to treat and consequently raising survival rates.
But there’s a problem – because increasing the number of UK screenings is not straight forward. Although there are around 5,000 people working in radiology, as either radiologists and radiographers, there are around 400 vacancies still unfilled in the profession, meaning the NHS is stretched to meet current demands with additional screening adding to the challenge.
Another good example is genomics. It took mankind millennia to understand the human genome and then another 20 years to analyse it. Today, we can now take the output from a genomic sequencing machine and analyse the sequence using AI.
If we want to do this at scale – which we do – then a few hundred geneticists in the UK will not be enough. However, if we let the machine do the interpretation and then come back with a report, then we can equip the oncologist with a lot more insights which could empower them in their treatment decisions.
Another key challenge that technology can help with is the engagement of the patient, as a person, so that they’re ready for increasingly demanding digital tools.
In any walk of life, we are expected to be a contributor of data; if I want to fly to Leeds then I need to provide information about myself or I can’t go anywhere.
Very rarely do we use any health data to inform and guide the patient, but increasingly people are prepared to engage with these types of analysis. At the same time, it doesn’t mean that you need to give all your information to the health system and for them to be answerable for you any more than you give all your information to the bank and have them decide your future. I’m not a finance specialist, but I’m in charge of my own finances.
“To be able to achieve better empowerment of clinicians and patients, and to ultimately achieve better health outcomes, we need to get the fundamentals right”
There are some examples already taking place; one of my favourites being ‘Versus Arthritis’ where they have an AI powered digital assistant where you can ask questions about your condition using natural language 24/7.
To be able to achieve better empowerment of clinicians and patients, and to ultimately achieve better health outcomes, we need to get the fundamentals right. Hence the three priorities as I see them for the NHS, when it comes to digital technology, over the next few years are:
(i) An infrastructure that is fit for purpose and ready for digitisation, because if there is no foundation you cannot build and effectively use the other capabilities,
(ii) Investment in cyber that provides secure data repositories,
(iii) Digitisation and interoperability; because the hospital sector is partially run on paper and faxes and we can’t do data analytics or augmented intelligence on paper; it needs to be in digital format, and systems need to be interoperable, and able to ‘talk to each other’.
These are the three short-term priorities which need to be invested in. The good news is that work has already started with projects that the NHS and IBM are working on today, especially those around creating increased cyber security capability, hybrid cloud capabilities to deliver a robust foundation, and enabling the effective use of data based on open standards, to address one of the significant problems of the health care industry, that a significant amount of systems cannot ‘talk’ to each other.
Re-imagining healthcare is hard, because the NHS is busy on a day to day level delivering the services it offers, but that’s why leadership and financial investment to create digital transformation are vitally important.