Innovation and changeDigital TransformationNHS invests in tech to improve patient experience: FOI

NHS invests in tech to improve patient experience: FOI

NHS trusts are harnessing AI-powered technologies such as speech recognition to streamline clinical documentation and deliver improve patient experience

According to new figures, artificial intelligence (AI) technology is being deployed in one out of five (19%) NHS Trusts to improve patient experience and two in five (38%) NHS Trusts are currently considering deploying AI and nearly one in 10 (8%) are planning deployments in the next 12 months.

This new data was obtained by a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from Nuance Communications – issued to 40 NHS Trusts, with 26 responding. The request inquired on their use of technology to improve patient experience, as well as supporting the development of clinical records.

Improving patient experience

Alongside this movement, one in four (27%) Trusts are currently implementing some form of speech recognition to aid the development of clinical documentation – enabling clinicians to spend more time treating patients and less time doing administration. Hospitals are increasingly harnessing technology such as speech recognition, digital dictation and typing automation systems to ease the pressure placed on healthcare workers, improve patient experience and reduce overhead costs.

While these developments are encouraging, there is still more work to be done. The request also found that nearly three in four (73%) Trusts still rely on pen and paper to document clinical patient records. This figure is down from 93% in 2017 – demonstrating progress – but also highlighting the clear journey ahead.

Investing in technology like speech recognition will enable NHS Trusts to improve patient experience and tackle staff burnout. It should also help Trusts to avoid outsourcing clinical documentation or hiring additional secretarial support at an additional cost. The outlay associated with both services were still significant for some respondents – with one Trust reporting a spend of around £140,000 on agency secretarial support to help compile outstanding patient records last year.

Some hospitals are already seeing the benefits associated with utilising these technologies. One example is Homerton, which has significantly reduced turnaround time on clinical letters to patients following consultations – from 17 days to two – and has saved more than £150,000 per year in outsourced transcription costs, after deploying Nuance’s Dragon Medical One speech solution.

Deployment of AI-powered technologies

Dr Simon Wallace, Chief Clinical Officer at Nuance Communications, said: “The current reliance on handwriting to complete patient records suggests we are still a way from the NHS’ 2020 paperless pledge. A lack of electronic patient record deployments and inefficient documentation processes are currently putting even more pressure on an already stretched organisation, with many clinicians forced to spend around half their time creating and updating patient records – rather than treating patients

“Progress is being made and the further deployment of AI-powered technologies – such as speech recognition – will result in more alleviation of pressure on staff, reducing clinician burnout and cutting costs. Above all, investing in such technology should enable healthcare professionals to spend less time on administration and more time focusing on their true job – caring for patients.”

Application of AI in healthcare

In two separate updates last month, the UK is exploring the application of AI in healthcare.

£240,000 has been made available through an Innovate UK Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competition, with funding from Opportunity North East and NHS Scotland, to investigate the use of AI and machine learning in the NHS. The competition will explore the usage of machine learning and AI in healthcare, particularly to support limb radiographs in the diagnosis of fractures. Possible improvements include diagnosis accuracy and treatment and increased productivity in radiology departments.

Similarly, Dr Kenji Takeda, Director of Academic Health and AI Partnerships at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, told the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Heart and Circulatory Diseases that helping the medical sector is one of the most important uses of AI in healthcare. A survey by APPG found that people in the UK support using more technology in the healthcare sector, with 85% of respondents backing the use of AI in diagnostics and treatment, and 86% saying they were happy for their anonymised health data to be shared to better diagnose medical conditions. The event was attended by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock and Simon Gillespie, Chief Executive of the British Heart Foundation.

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