AI and healthcare

19 Jan 2021 12:02 PM

There are various applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in healthcare, such as helping clinicians to make decisions, monitoring patient health, and automating routine administrative tasks. This POSTnote gives an overview of these uses, and their potential impacts on the cost and quality of healthcare, and on the workforce. It summarises the challenges to wider adoption of AI in healthcare, including those relating to safety, privacy, data-sharing, trust, accountability and health inequalities. It also outlines some of the regulations relevant to AI, and how these may change. As healthcare is a devolved issue, policies on healthcare AI differ across the UK. This POSTnote focusses on regulations and policies relevant to England.

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There is increasing interest in the use of AI in healthcare among academics, industry, healthcare professionals, and policymakers. AI has the potential to improve health outcomes and offer cost savings through reducing the time spent by staff on routine work. While some AI systems are commercially available, few are currently used widely in the NHS. Most AI products for healthcare are still at the research or development stage, with some being trialled or evaluated in NHS settings.

In the 2017 Industrial Strategy the UK Government stated its aim to use data and AI to “transform the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of chronic diseases by 2030.” In 2018, it invested £50m in five new centres of excellence for using AI to improve diagnostic imaging and pathology, with a further £50m allocated as part of its long-term response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Improved use of AI and digital healthcare technologies is identified as a priority in the 2019 NHS Long Term Plan. In 2019, the Government established NHSX, a new unit responsible for setting policy and best practice around the use of digital technologies in England. This included the creation of an AI Lab with £250M of funding to support the development and deployment of AI technologies in the NHS and care system.

Key Points

Acknowledgements

POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:

*denotes people and organisations who acted as external reviewers of the briefing.

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