Digital technology promises to transform healthcare

From stethoscopes to CT scanners, technology and healthcare have long gone hand in hand. But the difficulty, especially at a time when budgets are tight and digital innovation is on the rise, is deciding which technologies will bring the greatest public health benefits.

It doesn’t have to be groundbreaking innovations. An important step is to simply replace existing analog systems with digital ones, says David Maguire, senior analyst on the policy team at the health think tank King’s Fund.

That year, Maguire co-authored a report analyzing digital technology insights in health and social care. One of the most promising areas was communication, both internally and in dealing with patients.

This assessment is confirmed by the success of accuRx, a communication platform for general practitioners that combines an SMS system, video consultation hours and the ability to send documents and photos. Today the software is used by more than 98 percent of primary care practices in England, compared to 50 percent in March 2020.

While this rapid uptake is partly due to the impetus from the coronavirus pandemic, it also reflects the goals the NHS had in its a year before the pandemic Long term plan. Created by health professionals including frontline staff, it believes “making better use of data and digital technology” is critical to improving patient care within a decade.

“One of the biggest challenges in the health system is the fragmented care that patients experience in almost all health systems worldwide,” says Katie Halfhead, communications director at accuRx. “A simple infrastructure is required to improve communication between treating teams, resulting in integrated care and better patient outcomes.”

However, organizational inertia can be difficult to overcome. It was only three years ago that Matt Hancock, the British Minister of Health at the time, set deadlines from April 2020 to the end of 2021 for the NHS to phase out the use of Fax machines and Pager or mid-2020 Report of the National Audit Office “slow delivery” complained about the NHS ‘progress towards “digital transformation”.

The challenge is not just technological, but also economic, argues Maguire. “Giving clinics and managers in the industry the skills and time to look into implementation processes will help with any project that uses digital technology,” he says.

Patient trust is also needed, especially when it comes to the use of data – as the NHS took at its expense this year when a public outcry forced it to backtrack plans to scratch the medical history 55 million patients in a database to share with third parties.

But not all data is that sensitive. For example, the artificial intelligence start-up Kortical applies machine learning to logistics data to predict the demand for different types of blood.

Chief Operating Officer and co-founder Barbara Johnson says the software is able to “accommodate the dynamics and uncertainty inherent in such a complex system” 54 percent.

A receptionist at a family doctor's office in London. Better communication with patients can bring significant benefits

A receptionist at a family doctor’s office in London. Better communication with patients can bring significant benefits © Getty Images

Drug discovery is another promising area for machine learning as startups bet that AI can find untold potential in overlooked molecules. Cambridge-based Healx is one such company. Its Healnet AI platform is geared towards finding drugs for rare diseases for which only 5 percent have an approved treatment. Tim Guilliams, Co-Founder and CEO, says the company has 18 programs in its pipeline.

In the coming months, it will also start a clinical study on Fragile X Syndrome, which causes learning disabilities.

Healnet integrates content including biomedical research and patient group data and analyzes it to find potentially useful associations between diseases and connections. The Healx team then selects the most promising compounds for further study.

There is, says Guilliams, the potential for “real advances” in drug development. “I think there are tremendous opportunities to improve preclinical validation and clinical trials – for example, by using AI to improve molecules to reduce toxicity, to predict the effects of molecules on patients, or even to the most relevant people identify who can be recruited for studies. “.”

But the state of the art can also depend on more modest innovations. “For example, you can’t start using AI systems until you’ve stepped away from paper files,” says Maguire.

He adds that a conceptual shift from reactive health care to disease prevention may be required before the technology can realize its full potential.

“One of the major challenges facing the sector is trying to create real population models of care that will cover people where they are, with the needs they have now, not the needs that meet the needs Their risk factors developed worsening, ”he says.

This could be done through the use of Load-bearing tracking indicators like heart rate and body temperature – although policy makers may find that privacy and digital inequality issues are more difficult to resolve.