A self-described “plumber from Essex”, Dr. Tony Young, National Clinical Lead for Innovation, NHS (National Health Service) England gave a candid address at AIMed Europe 2019 on 17 September. Dr. Young compared the present tsunami of data and technology boom in medicine and healthcare, to the Great Stink happened in year 1858. 

Back then, River Thames was flooded with filth and sewer, as the summer heat was rising, London became unlivable and toxic. There were continuous arguments over whether the public or private sector should be responsible for cleaning the water source but to no avail. Not until the government formally stepped in and gave civil engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette 2.5 million pounds to build what became the model of a modern sanitation system adopted by many countries today. 

Dr. Young added whilst there may not be a direct linkage between The Great Stink and artificial intelligence (AI) in medicine and healthcare, the massive data accumulated in the system and the debate on whose job it is to sort them out are no different from what happened 160 years ago. Once again, he believed the government should take the lead. 

The inconvenient truth 

Dr. Young said it’s great to know many startups are getting founded and receiving funding to develop AI-driven solutions but the inconvenient truth is: most of these innovations are not executable on the frontline. 

“I think we can focus down on two keys: One of them is how is your healthcare going to adopt this and take it forward. We are going to come up with all these great AI-based, machine learning (ML)-based solutions. How are you, a healthcare system; a nation, going to make it work… The other is around data, what systems have we got, how are we going to earn, share, and store these data. What are the third-party interests in this and how are we going to free up clinicians locked in separate electronic health record systems?” Dr. Young commented. 

With that, he thought the British government had already taken a step. As shown in the NHS Long Term Plan published early this year, which set priorities on issues like futureproofing the 70-year-old system, improving cancer diagnosis from 50% to 75%, increasing the access for remote consultation, transforming and supporting the large workforce and so on. 

On board a train and leave the station 

Ultimately, Dr. Young said it’s important to get AI “on board a train and leave the station”, meaning the impact of AI should be elaborated by seizing onto opportunities that are present. He cited The Accelerated Access Collaborative which focused on researching and scanning for transformative innovations catered to the needs of staff and patients, as well as the clinical entrepreneur training programs that had produced close to 400 clinician-entrepreneurs with a shared funding of 164 million pounds and 175 startups to create solutions that benefited more than 17 million patients, as examples that the NHS is motivated to get its population “out of the station”. 

Some figures from the NHS Clinical Entrepreneurs Training Program

At the same time, Dr. Young emphasized on the importance of accessibility and employability of a developed solution. For example, a software which allows healthcare professionals to focus on the specular of the eardrum and do ear wax suction. When coupled with AI, the same software may also produce a diagnosis of what is going on in the eardrum. Dr. Young had demonstrated earlier how easy the tool was to be adopted by anyone, including himself and Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. 

Dr. Young illustrated how a software can be easily adopted by anyone, even politician.

“We want to embrace that anyone can be taught a commercial skill, knowledge, and experience, to start with this in order to hold onto the challenges we face in healthcare”, Dr. Young said. 

AIMed Europe 2019 continues today (18 September) and tomorrow (19 September). More information can be found on AIMed Europe 2019 official site, or follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram for the latest event updates.

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Hazel Tang

A science writer with data background and an interest in the current affair, culture, and arts; a no-med from an (almost) all-med family. Follow on Twitter.