Following the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare is being transformed through AI and technology, improving patient care in the NHS and beyond
Providing the best patient care is the top priority for healthcare professionals. However, with limited staffing and resources and high outpatient visits to medical facilities, the ability to access quality medical care has been hampered. Alongside this, the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the situation.
Waiting lists are at record highs, with more than 6 million people waiting for treatment according to recent NHS figures. Receiving treatment quickly and efficiently is vital, particularly for those with chronic or life-threatening illnesses. The reality, however, is that these patients do not even get their first meeting with specialists or consultants before 16 to 20 weeks, irrespective of the urgency of their condition. The healthcare sector has tried various ways to address this issue, but little has changed for patient care.
Digital solutions in lockdown
In the wake of the pandemic, digital solutions became more prevalent with children learning via Zoom, and the medical field was no exception. Video conferencing technology revolutionised the way medical appointments were conducted. However, digital adoption in healthcare needs to be accelerated far greater than just this. Investing in other technologies can also help in reducing waiting lists, with the need to improve access to medical care becoming increasingly apparent.
Investing in artificial intelligence (AI) tools is one way for the healthcare sector to tackle waiting lists, which we are already seeing happening in some healthcare facilities. At the Walton Centre in Liverpool, for example, headaches make up the largest number of referrals, with a three-month average waiting period to be seen by a consultant.
In response, the Walton Centre has partnered with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) to develop an AI chatbot for headaches customers to collect preliminary details of symptoms from the patient, which are then passed on to a doctor to progress and refer the patient to a relevant specialist.
Correcting treatment through personalised patient care
The chatbot will take patients through structured questions to collect information about their symptoms. Clinicians can then review this information before the first appointment in conjunction with patients’ medical history so that more time can be spent on providing the correct course of treatment.
AI, sensors and analytics are being used in several ways to improve medical care and reduce the burden on clinicians. For example, AI is used to quickly and precisely analyse medical images to identify anomalies and examine critical areas such as the GI tract. This is especially important in identifying serious diseases such as cancer. The technology can also help track the progression of healing of wounds, ease the workload for radiologists, and further reduce variables and outliers that take the subjectivity out of diagnosis.
AI is also being developed to support surgery preparations and serve as building blocks for remote surgery. These include auto-instrument positioning during eye surgeries, tool detection and identification, smoke detection, and surgical visualisation. All these capabilities can benefit patients and health professionals by reducing surgery duration and minimising possible complications.
AI, sensor, and analytics technologies have been advancing significantly and are now at a point where they can identify, in non-intrusive and cost-effective ways, key indicators of serious medical conditions. The patterns identified by such technologies track the signs of early-stage developmental and brain disorders, mental illnesses, and degenerative neurological diseases, helping doctors and patients better predict, monitor, and follow these conditions ubiquitously at a considerably lower cost than before —revolutionising how screening and rehabilitation can be conducted.
Healthcare providers need to take the leap
With an already stretched healthcare system in the UK, embracing digital tools and solutions could be a game-changer. It’s time for healthcare providers to take the leap and set the pace for a revolution in healthcare, leading to better patient care and clinician experience and outcomes.
Shalini Mathur, Vice President and Business Unit Head of Public Services for UK, Europe & ANZ at Tata Consultancy Services, helps public sector organisations in their digital transformation journeys. She believes innovation in the public sector is the key to enhancing user experience and improving quality of service, bringing in efficiency, transparency, convenience and greater security in service delivery. One of her current responsibilities is leading the development of the AI chatbot service for patients at The Walton Centre in Liverpool.