NHS Future Technology Review Calls for Expert Evidence

Tim Locke

June 28, 2018

An independent review into cutting-edge healthcare technologies for use in the NHS in England has delivered its interim conclusions.

The review began in April and covers developments such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and smartphone apps. It is being led by the US academic, geneticist, and cardiologist Dr Eric Topol, who is also Editor-in-Chief of Medscape.

He's said the technologies could be "transformative" and could save money for the NHS in some cases, rather than costing more.

The review was commissioned by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Jeremy Hunt, and is being run by Health Education England (HEE).

Dr Topol's team includes experts in AI, digital medicine, genomics, education, and health economics.

Key Principles

The interim report recommends three key principles as part of the future workforce strategy for the NHS - patients, evidence, and 'the gift of time'.

  • Empowering patients, if they are willing and able, to use new technology to help them become more actively involved and engaged in their care.

  • Grounding the introduction of technologies in robust evidence, making sure it is fit for purpose, and gaining the trust of staff and patients with ethical governance.

Adopting technologies should give clinicians the 'gift of time' so more time can be devoted to care and relationships with patients.

'The Next Frontier'

In a news release, Dr Topol said: "We desperately need innovation in healthcare. Artificial Intelligence is already in every aspect of our lives – from navigation to voice recognition – and will now be applied to healthcare, the next frontier."

HEE Lead Director for the review, Patrick Mitchell, regional director for the South of England, said: "The speed in which the digital age is upon us provides the opportune time for the NHS to review its position with respect to the effect these new technologies and innovations are having now and will have in the future for the provision of patient diagnosis, treatment, care.

"More importantly the effect these changes will generate for the future that will help shape the training of our clinical workforce, to improve services for patients and help ensure a sustainable NHS."

"The NHS has been a trailblazer since its foundation," Health Minister Steve Barclay said. "As we celebrate its achievements on its 70th birthday, it is vital that we also look ahead and prepare for the opportunities and challenges of the future.

"Dr Topol's work will not only help cement the NHS's place as a world-leader in innovation but will also empower staff to make effective use of technology that will help free-up time and improve quality of care for patients."

The final report is due towards the end of 2018. Contributions are being invited via the HEE Topol Review website.

'Apps and Algorithms Will Never Replace GPs'

In a separate development, the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) has been responding to claims that computer algorithms, like Babylon's GP at Hand service can provide medical knowledge that can be as good as that of clinicians.

Babylon Health gave a presentation to the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) in which the system passed selected sections of the MRCGP exam - the final test for GPs in training.

Babylon's Founder and CEO, Dr Ali Parsa, believes technology like theirs can help when there's a shortage of doctors. He said in a statement: "Babylon's latest artificial intelligence capabilities show that it is possible for anyone, irrespective of their geography, wealth or circumstances, to have free access to health advice that is on-par with top-rated practising clinicians."

Babylon stresses that, for regulatory reasons, its technology for the public gives health information rather than a clinical diagnosis.

In a statement, Professor Martin Marshall, RCGP vice chair said: "The potential of technology to support doctors to deliver the best possible patient care is fantastic, but at the end of the day, computers are computers, and GPs are highly-trained medical professionals: the two can’t be compared and the former may support but will never replace the latter."

He continues: "Technology has the potential to transform the NHS, but it must be implemented in an equitable way, that doesn’t benefit some patients, and not others, and is not to the detriment of the general practice service as a whole."


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