„Der Nächste bitte!“Hierzu könnte schon bald ein Roboter auffordern. DENIS CAMPBELL berichtet über die Ergebnisse einer kürzlich durchgeführten Studie.
Robots and healthcare
An artificial intelligence revolution may soon be underway in the British National Health Service (NHS). A new report predicts that robots could help hospital patients eat their meals, diagnose serious illnesses and even help people recover from operations. Machines could take over a wide range of tasks currently done by doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants and administrative staff, according to a leading think tank. Widespread use of artificial intelligence (AI) and the NHS accepting “full automation” could free up staff time worth as much as £12.5 billion a year — time that they could spend interacting with patients.
“Given the scale of productivity savings required in health and care — and the shortage of frontline staff — automation presents a significant opportunity to improve both the efficiency and the quality of care in the NHS,” says a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and Lord Darzi, a surgeon and ex-health minister.
More accurate diagnoses
“Bedside robots” could help patients consume food and drink and move around their ward, and even help with exercises as part of their rehabilitation from surgery, it says. In addition, “someone arriving at hospital may begin by undergoing digital triage in an automated assessment suite. Ai-based systems, including machine-learning algorithms, would be used to make more accurate diagnoses of diseases such as pneumonia, breast and skin cancers, eye diseases and heart conditions.”
Digital technology could also take over the communication of patients’ notes, booking of appointments and processing of prescriptions.
The report sought to reduce fears that an AIpowered NHS could lead to a significant loss of jobs among its 1.3 million workers in England. Machines would work alongside human beings, not replace them, so patients would benefit, it says. The report, part of a major piece of research into how to make the 70-year-old NHS sustainable, states: “Unlike many industries, where there are fears that automation will result in mass unemployment, in health and care automation will primarily complement human skills and talents, by reducing the burden of administrative tasks — communicating medical notes, booking appointments, processing prescriptions — whilst freeing up time for clinical decision-making and caring.”
Hospital bosses are divided over how plausible the IPPR’S vision of a future Ai-driven NHS is and how many of the tasks currently done by nurses and other staff can be taken over by robots.
“It is realistic that significant elements of patient care could be improved by robotics and artificial intelligence,” said Andrew Foster, CEO of the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS trust, who was also the Department of Health’s director of human resources for the NHS from 2001 to 2006. “However, we must never forget the fundamental importance of human care, compassion, empathy and even the importance of a gentle, physical, human touch. For [AI] to be welcome, health services will have to sensitively blend new technologies with old-fashioned care.”
Tracy Bullock, chief executive of Mid Cheshire Hospitals trust, voiced similar caution. “When a patient is being fed, you are not just feeding them, you are assessing their alertness, emotional state, ability to engage, skin condition, respiratory rate and so on. I’m not sure AI can do that, as the algorithms to enable it would be too complex,” Bullock said.
“Would there be redundancies?” she asked. “I would hope not, as we are woefully short of staff. But if the savings do not come from staff, where are they coming from? I’m sure there will be some from quicker treatments and other efficiencies. But £12 billion?”
Foster, however, doubted the NHS could afford to reduce its workforce as a result of the adoption of AI. “We currently have at least 100,000 vacancies in the NHS with demand rising all the time. I think that redundant NHS staff is a long way from being a significant concern,” he said.
Meanwhile, new figures show that, as a result of the NHS’S cash crisis, hospitals are using out-ofdate scanners that should have been replaced up to 17 years ago. Information released by hospitals in England under freedom-of-information laws shows widespread continued use of very old X-ray machines as well as CT, MRI and ultrasound scanners.
Recent research showed that the UK has only 9.5 CT scanners per one million of population, compared with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average of 26. Similarly, the NHS has only 7.2 MRI scanners per million people, whereas the OECD average is 16.
Machines would work alongside human beings, not replace them
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