Report: Some clinicians believe tech adoption is more about politics, less about improving care

The adoption of technology in the NHS is more closely tied to meeting a “political or commercial imperative” rather than improving care, say a dozen stakeholders from across the health system who were interviewed for a new report.

Published by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, or RSA, on 30 October, the “Patient AI” paper, first covered by the Health Service Journal, sought to identify how the introduction of emerging technologies was “influencing commissioning and clinical practice” across the NHS.

The RSA said understanding and agreeing on the purposes for the deployment of new tools and systems needed to be the “starting point for a more constructive conversation”.

The organisation carried out interviews under the Chatham House Rule with professionals involved in the development, procurement and use of data-driven technologies in the health service earlier this year.

It outlined the work done in partnership with NHSX, the unit for digital, data and technology, and found interviewees believed that much of the struggles in embedding new tools stemmed from the fact that the NHS did not see itself as a “digital organisation”.

“For example, someone who has cancer, the best care is given by multidisciplinary teams, but that’s not what we do around technology,” one CCIO, who called for multidisciplinary team working, was quoted as saying. “We put the technology people in a room out on another site, in a different part of the hospital and the clinicians in different part. The challenge is how to break down some of those silos, bringing different groups together in multidisciplinary team. Get the technologists, the clinical transformation, quality improvement.” 

To address these issues, the RSA’s recommendations range from ensuring that patient adoption played a “key” role in the integration of new tools, underpinned by a “robust evidence base”, to creating a network of “clinical champions” that would support the spread of innovation across the system.

“This would not be a network of hero-professionals; rather they would largely be system-focussed public entrepreneurs who work below the radar to help shift attitudes and practices and provide inspiration to others so as to collectively build a culture of innovation,” the paper reads.   

When approached for comment, NHS England referred Healthcare IT News to a separate report on AI published by NHSX this week. It follows a recent announcement regarding the launch of a £250m AI lab, to be run by NHSX and the Accelerated Access Collaborative, which supports innovation in healthcare in the UK.

A state of the nation survey was carried out earlier this year for the NHSX report, along with a National Health Research Institute (NIHR) horizon scanning exercise, to get an understanding of the AI products available on the market and the areas that needed to be addressed to speed up development in a “safe, responsible way”.

Although results point to “significant progress”, only a third of AI developers reportedly believed that their products would be ready for implementation at scale in a year’s time.

Their findings also show that screening and diagnosis were the two main areas of focus for these innovators, with 132 different products targeting 70 conditions identified by researchers.

Commenting on the NHSX AI report, Tara Donnelly, NHSX chief digital officer, said: “Artificial Intelligence has already shown it has the potential to not only improve but save lives across the health and care system which why it is a priority in the NHS Long Term Plan.

“From processing scan results to automating language, this is an exciting era for technology in healthcare and the introduction of our new NHS AI Lab will help revolutionise the UKs ability to take advantage of this technology, benefiting patients and clinical staff alike.”

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