Embracing transformative AI solutions for ICSs helps maximise efficiency, reduce costs, and elevate patient care in the evolving landscape of healthcare delivery, writes Dr Reggie Sangha, medical director at Content Guru

Integrated care systems have the potential to transform how we plan and deliver joined-up patient-centric healthcare across England’s NHS, local authority and private delivery organisations. Every ICS is unique in terms of its population and provider mix, however all face the common challenge of delivering efficiencies at scale from ever-reducing budgets whilst trying to meet heightened patient expectations, in pursuit of better health outcomes.

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Commissioners face the daunting task of driving integration of the entire health and care system for their area. Fortunately technological and process advancements are on hand to help create custom solutions for each ICS’s geography and demography.

The role of generative AI in integrated care systems

It is estimated that by 2026, more than 80 per cent of organisations will have used Generative AI Application Programming Interfaces, or deployed GenAI-enabled applications. Game changing capabilities such as AI-enabled speech-to-text transcription, translation and call summarisation are expected to optimise clinical advisory services such as NHS 111, as well as helping with emergency 999 calls. In addition, AI-powered solutions will introduce time and cost-saving efficiencies across settings as diverse as community, in-hospital and primary care. In clinical settings alone it is estimated that speech-to-text transcription will save up to two hours a day of clinician time, providing higher-quality and more comprehensive data recording into electronic patient records, reducing low-value time and effort, and allowing clinicians to focus on providing patient care and communication, operating, as the saying goes, at the top of their licence.

Integrated data, integrated care

Data is often fragmented across multiple healthcare services, making it a challenge for both commissioners and frontline staff to locate and utilise patient information at the point of need. A comprehensive amalgamated data set, collected from disparate systems of record and displayed as a dashboard, could play a role in managing effective demand and resource allocation. Through centralised command centres – the new nerve centres of integrated healthcare systems – leveraging data analytics and predictive modelling to anticipate surges in demand would enable the allocation of resources much more efficiently than has ever been possible. Demand management dashboards will enable command centre staff to predict and monitor capacity within the healthcare system and present best alternative choices for emergency departments and other acute care services in situations where demand exceeds supply.

 Transforming urgent care pathways will require integrating AI-powered capabilities and centralised command centres

Virtual wards: a paradigm shift in urgent care

Virtual wards, probably better thought of as “hospital-at-home” solutions, enable patients to be supported at home via smart connected devices that keep healthcare professionals informed about the condition of a patient in their care. The first generation of virtual wards was introduced successfully, with NHS England meeting its target of 10,000 beds by the end of 2023; cementing their position as a permanent addition to the UK healthcare landscape.

Implementation of virtual wards for preselected patients with long-term chronic conditions significantly reduces the risk of hospital-acquired infections, whilst equipping clinical teams with the tools to monitor a large patient cohort cost-effectively. This innovative approach allows clinical teams to efficiently monitor patients through automated text check-ins and diverse communication tools such as automated text check-ins, and phone and video calls.

Looking into 2024 and beyond, a new generation of hospital-at-home technology, combining hospital-grade continuous monitoring devices and a command centre hub that orchestrates data and resources, will enable higher acuity patients to be treated safely in the home. These developments will both drive up occupancy rates and extend the utility and scale of the virtual ward concept.

Integrated care boards are under increasing pressure to further reduce costs, maximise resource utilisation, and increase efficiency while meeting increasingly high patient expectations. Transforming urgent care pathways will require integrating AI-powered capabilities and centralised command centres. Embracing these strategies and approaches will allow healthcare systems to provide more efficient and effective urgent care services to their communities.