A new kind of doctor has entered the exam room, but doesn’t have a name. In fact, these doctors don’t even have faces. Artificial intelligence has made its way into hospitals around the world.
However, according to an NHS report on the pending technological “revolution” in healthcare, robots, artificial intelligence and smart speakers will ease the burden on doctors and give them more time with patients.
The report, led by a US academic, Eric Topol, calls for fresh education for staff, with 90% of all NHS jobs predicted to require digital skills within 20 years.
But those who fear robots could edge out human practitioners may be reassured by the review’s suggestion that technology will “enhance” professionals, giving them greater time for patients.
Smart speakers such as Siri and Alexa are envisioned as having a major impact on care. Though uptake of the fledgling technology has been slow so far, with fears of errors, advances will make it a “valuable tool” for updating patients’ records, allowing doctors to focus on patients and not paperwork.
Virtual reality could be used in reducing pain and distress for wounded patients and treating anxiety, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder. Artificial intelligence (AI) could save time in interpreting scans such as mammograms, eye scans and pathology slides, and also improve the accuracy of diagnoses.
The assistance of robots in surgery could be expanded, and robots could also automate repetitive tasks such as dispensing pharmaceuticals. Using phones or Skype for diagnoses and treatment has the potential for significant savings, the report says.
The authors conclude: “Our review of the evidence leads us to suggest that these technologies will not replace healthcare professionals, but will enhance them … giving them more time to care for patients.”
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “Our health service is on the cusp of a technology revolution and our brilliant staff will be in the driving seat when it happens.
“Technology must be there to enhance and support clinicians. It has the potential to make working lives easier for dedicated NHS staff and free them up to use their medical expertise and do what they do best: care for patients.”