London hospital to use AI to cut A&E waiting times

UCLH aims to use machine learning to help diagnose disease and streamline services

The Royal College Hospital London (UCLH) plans to use artificial intelligence to support clinical decision-making, replacing doctors and nurses in certain situations.

The hospital will work alongside The Alan Turing Institute, a government-funded data science research hub, to look at ways to make NHS services quicker, safer and more efficient, announcing a three-year partnership.

One area they will focus on is A&E, which is seen as a barometer of how the rest of the hospital and the wider system is working. It is hoped the technology can help the hospital achieve the national average waiting times of four hours, which it is currently not meeting. 

"Imagine a scenario where patients present to A&E with abdominal pain. Our standard response is to check bloods, order X-rays or scans and in probably about 80% of cases, discharge for home management," said Professor Marcel Levi, UCLH chief executive.

"What, if through analysis of thousands of similar scenarios, we were able to identify patterns in the initial presentation of the 20% with serious conditions, such as intestinal perforation or severe infections? This could enable us to fast track them through to a scan and a swift diagnosis and could support clinical decision-making to manage the 80% who need no further clinical input more effectively."

Another area the partnership will look to improve is the flow of staff and patients through the hospital. Researchers at the UCLH and The Alan Turing Institute will apply AI and machine learning techniques to larger datasets on how people move through the various wards. 

By analysing this data, areas that have bottleneck and congestion can be tracked and downtime in how the hospital operates can be assessed, to then work out how to improve efficiency and help patients get seen faster and more effectively.

Professor Bryan Williams, director of research at UCLH NHS Foundation Trust, believes that the amount of data available to the trust could be harnessed to solve some of the service's biggest issues.

"The NHS routinely collects data that is analysed to develop research, track performance and measure outcomes but we could do so much more with the information we collect," he said.

"Imagine a world where we could use this data to develop algorithms to rule out diseases, suggest treatment plans or predict behaviour. That is more than possible with the wealth of data we have available and the expertise at The Alan Turing Institute. The partnership has the potential to tackle some of the big issues that the NHS has never been able to solve."

The news arrives in the same week as prime minister Theresa May's pledge to invest millions into helping the NHS use AI to improve early diagnosis of cancer, using patients' lifestyle and medical data to also personalise care plans.

AI relies on huge quantities of data to analyse, but the NHS has previously landed itself in hot water over sharing data for AI initiatives.

Last year the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) ruled that a deal between Google's AI arm, DeepMind, and the Royal Free Hospital broke data protection rules by sharing 1.6 million people's data without their consent.

An independent review panel also agreed there was a "lack of clarity" in the initial data-sharing agreement.

Picture: Shutterstock

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