Hospitals could rely on artificial intelligence (AI) scoring systems to deal with a huge backlog of patients due to Covid-19 disruption.
Algorithms would use a scoring system to ‘rank’ patients depending on the severity of their condition, prioritising those most in need and setting up virtual interaction for patients who do not need to be seen face-to-face.
The new system comes after medical professionals warned that the backlog of patients could reach 10 million people by December if a system is not put in place to manage it.
Tom Whicher, CEO of DrDoctor, told Sky News that the new system could reduce the time needed to get through the backlog from four years to 10 months.
“About 12% of patients on waiting lists don’t need that appointment and they can be seen somewhere else,” he said.
“That leaves 88% of patients. Of those, about half you can risk-stratify and keep them at home. Remember, for every surgery, you probably have four follow-up appointments. This is about reducing those.”
Specialists working in cancer treatment said the scoring tool has helped reduce the time of a follow-up appointment from 10-15 minutes to 4-5 minutes.
Dr Ananth Sivanandan, a consultant in clinical oncology at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust, told Sky News the system had “huge potential” for freeing up doctors’ time.
However, there has been discussion around using digital tools such as these as some professionals say they could exacerbate health inequalities, as some groups have greater access to digital technology and are more fully reflected in the data.
Carly Kind, director of the Ada Lovelace Institute, said: “There are cultural differences in how likely someone is to rank their pain as severe or not severe.
“That may mean that those who are culturally less likely to say that they have severe pain are less likely to get seen face to face and more likely to be relegated to a digital consultation.”
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AI has shown huge potential to make the lives of NHS workers easier, and potentially revolutionise healthcare in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Michael Noon, features writer for the Immigration Advice Service, commented: “By increasing operational efficiency, artificial intelligence can free up valuable time for care workers and allow them to concentrate on their work, and not feel quite as stretched as they undoubtedly have over the past decade or more.
“So-called ‘Care Robots’ can shoulder tasks such as regular temperature checks, monitoring of breath, and setting reminders. By taking care of these things, staff are able to impart the human touch where it is more necessary.”
The UK government is hoping to save £13 billion per year with their plans of increased automation in the health sector and, as part of the new post-Brexit measures due to take effect in 2021, an additional £250 million will be spent on AI.