Andy Cachaldora, General Manager for Digital Service North Europe at GE Healthcare, gives an insight into digital technology and artificial intelligence, and describes how its uptake by healthcare professionals could have an immediate impact on clinical areas, including cancer.

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Rethinking reservations around digital health

Digital technology and AI are already everywhere in our lives – often without us even realising – for example, satnavs telling us where to go, apps recommending products and services based on our taste, and tools in healthcare, such as the booking system for arranging appointments. However, the uptake of digital solutions in healthcare for more complex workflow and clinical applications has been slow and cautious. This is largely due to a lack of understanding of the technology itself and of its potential to improve efficiency and productivity, as well as an underlying misconception that digital solutions might “replace” healthcare professionals. There is also no clear guidance for choosing the right tools, regulating the technologies on offer, and getting the best out of the AI opportunities out there. While the NHS is starting to work on quality standards and process models, clinicians are bombarded daily with promises of the latest hi-tech wizardry, but with no independent evidence to prove its worth.

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The health emergency caused by the huge increase in workload from the covid-19 pandemic has unsurprisingly put global health systems to the test, and brought digital healthcare and AI to the fore, catapulting technology ahead several years or more. A big challenge now is to catch up on delayed procedures – screening, diagnosis, treatment and surgery – for those with life-threatening diseases or at risk, and to deal with the backlog of appointments to avoid future crises. Hospital staff are staring down the barrel of 12-hour days and seven-day weeks for the foreseeable future, and the search is on for tools that can really help. The answer for better quality of life seems to lie in combining best practice and human intelligence with AI that uses data points, analytics and algorithms.

Understanding the immediate benefits of AI for different clinical areas

There is now a growing recognition that digital solutions can help to make workloads manageable, preventing clinician burnout, reinforcing standards that may have – out of necessity – slipped and, crucially, improving clinical outcomes. The adoption of AI could revolutionise healthcare, by providing effective diagnostics imaging networks to increase throughput and release pressure. AI could benefit communities where patient centric services are offered, at the point of care for rapid diagnosis or prevention, at a departmental level for monitoring demand of staff and optimising use of rooms, and at a hospital level for predicting and managing lifesaving resources.

For example, incorporating AI into medical equipment such as electrocardiogram, magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography machines can automate and speed up examinations, and potentially save healthcare professionals a lot of time each day. This can also help to prioritise patients who have suspected lesions and potential tumours, for the early diagnosis of conditions like cardiovascular diseases and cancers such as malignant melanoma, which can have a significant effect on improving survival rates and lowering treatment costs. Such capabilities to tackle the covid backlog will be crucial.

Working together for a better future in digital health

The market is striding ahead so quickly that, while today’s AI solutions look fantastic, tomorrow there will probably be something even better. And the problem with speed can be lack of quality. It will be extremely important to identify where this technology can be most effective and useful, and sift through all the options available.

GE Healthcare’s Edison Accelerator programme aims to do just that. This unique initiative serves as a hub, bringing together SMEs with AI capabilities and validation partners within the NHS to develop digital solutions that can meet clinicians’ and patients’ ongoing needs, and providing a framework to help monitor quality.

The power of digital solutions in healthcare has already been shown to improve efficiencies in workflow. There are undoubtedly numerous ways that this technology can be exploited further to not only transform today’s healthcare pressures, but also to develop healthcare provision for the future, in synergy with clinical medicine.

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