It comes as no surprise that innovations under the umbrella term technology affect increasingly more aspects of our life. And healthcare is no exception. Due to technology's versatility, it can support the delivery of care in so many areas of the NHS and thus make an immense impact on the quality and safety of care:
♿ Improving Access To Healthcare: Patients living in more remote areas of the UK have generally poorer access to healthcare, which studies have shown makes them more likely to postpone check-ups or seek medical advice when worried about their health. Now remote consultations via video or phone reduce the effort and time needed to seek medical advice and make accessing healthcare safer in the era of Covid-19. Moreover, educational resources like the NHS website, containing a lot of useful information about symptoms, disease management and prevention, can help patients self-manage some of the minor health issues, offloading the pressures on clinicians.
🗄️ Organisation And Management: Thanks to IT systems like NHS Spine sending patients' records, and test results between hospitals or clinicians is now possible in a matter of milliseconds and with a certainty of accuracy. And from the patient's point of view, resources like the NHS App can help them book appointments, order repeat prescriptions or book appointments all from their phone without having to involve the administration or medical staff.
🧑🏫 Education Of Healthcare Staff: Thanks to high-tech video recording equipment and online platforms doctors and nurses can access educational materials more easily and expand their knowledge and skillset. Moreover, more recently, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) systems have come to the forefront of surgical innovation allowing surgeons to train operations without having to risk the safety of the patient. You can read more about these exciting technologies here.
💉 Diagnosis: Artificial Intelligence (AI) is starting to revolutionise the diagnostic aspect of care before our eyes. AI is an algorithm or software that can learn to recognize patterns in data or images after being exposed to a large number of data beforehand. The advantage of AI over humans is that they are much faster, tireless, and cheaper (the cost of developing such an algorithm is huge, but compare it to the cost of training a consultant radiologist (which takes 15 years!)) and recently also the accuracy. For instance, this recent, large study by Imperial College London and Google found an AI algorithm developed by DeepMind was able to spot breast cancer on mammograms more accurately than six consultant radiologists!
📈 Improving The Quality Of Care and Expanding Possibilities: Medical devices and surgical robots, like the da Vinci surgical system, can open the doors to a new range of treatments or help surgeons perform operations more successfully and safely. You can read more about surgical robots here.
And that's definitely not an exhaustive list! Think about how technology improves research, data handling and analysis or development of new medicines, their distribution or aids disabled patients (prosthesis).
It all sounds wonderful, but advanced reliance on technology in healthcare has also its downsides and risks:
💰 Costs: Developing, implementing and maintaining these technologies often come at a huge cost (on the other hand many of them help save financial resources by saving time, preventing out-patient visits or post-disease complications).
🔐 Security: Technology makes the functioning of whole hospitals and trusts vulnerable to cyber-attacks (in 2017 the NHS was almost frozen due to a famous WannaCry cyber attack).
🔑 Responsibility: Some innovations, like AI, may create problems of responsibility. Who should be held accountable for a mistake made by an algorithm? That's why it will probably always be necessary for a doctor to oversee an AI and why AI will be used as a tool to aid doctors, rather than replace medics.
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"Artificial intelligence explained in 2 minutes: What exactly is AI?" - YouTube video by KI-Campus
"AI 'outperforms' doctors diagnosing breast cancer" - an article by Fergus Walsh for the BBC outlining the findings of the AI project led by Imperial and Google
"How robots can make surgery more controlled and precise" - an article by Brian T. Horowitz for the Health Tech Magazine about the use of surgical robots.
"Virtual reality system helps surgeons, reassures patients" - an insight into the world of VR and how its used at Stanford Medicine