Robot Doctors: The Future of the NHS?

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Xiao Yi recently hit the headlines for scoring a rather impressive 465 points out of a possible 600; 96 points more than required to pass the notoriously difficult National Medical Licensing Exam in China. Mr Yi, however, is remarkably different to those that normally sit the test; he’s a robot! Despite his success, Xiao Yi is still some way off becoming a qualified doctor, but the idea of a future of robotic medical professionals isn’t actually too far outside of the realm of possibility, especially with new technologies.

AI in the NHS

At the recent NHS Health and Care Innovation Expo conference held in Manchester in September, Health Minister Lord O’Shaughnessy announced the new Code of Conduct for Data-Driven Health and Care Technology; an NHS-created, artificial intelligence-based set of guidelines focusing on the development of new technologies that are to be created specifically to meet the growing digital needs of the NHS.

Of course, AI already has its place in healthcare, although it isn’t quite reaching its full potential. Earlier this year, medical professionals in the UK began utilising artificial intelligence technology to diagnose conditions such as heart disease and lung cancer. It is estimated that 1 in 5 cases of these diseases are missed by doctors. It is hoped that the accuracy of AI systems can pick up on signs that doctors can’t see.

However, the new code of conduct is aimed at expanding the existing use of AI in a hospital setting, with diabetes, dementia, and obesity being three of the primary conditions for which the NHS is currently seeking digital solutions. Aspects such as glucose monitoring, speech tracking, and digital health coaching respectively, could significantly improve the detection and management of these conditions. AI could not only boost overall health across the UK, but also create notable cost savings for the struggling NHS.

The Future of Medical Technology

Diagnosis through artificial intelligence systems really is just the start of what could be possible in terms of medical technology. Augmented reality, for example, is becoming more and more likely. Some experts are claiming that it may not be long before we’re seeing holographic data input during consultations, and surgeons wearing headsets that allow them to overlay information onto patients during procedures, in an attempt to minimise the risk of errors. On top of that, we have further possibilities – such as 3D printed bones and organs, or even achieving immortality through downloading thoughts and memories onto a computer.

Opportunities in Tech

Health Education England are reported to have brought in American technologist Dr Eric Topol, to help them in creating a workforce strategy to effectively manage the changes that will occur throughout the NHS, as hospitals begin to adopt new technologies. Having undertaken a review at the Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, Dr Topol has confirmed that new skills and additional training will be an integral part of the NHS’s move towards digital medicine, and will be key to the success of these new technologies.

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