24 July 2018 by Spencer Symmons
Technological advancements are shaping the future of the NHS. From sophisticated smartphone apps used to monitor vital signs to artificial intelligence software programmed to improve the accuracy and speed of diagnosis, modern medicine is on the brink of a new revolution. Now, for the first time, leading experts in AI, digital medicine, genomics and robotics are coming together to explore the extraordinary opportunities that these game-changing technologies can offer the healthcare workforce.
The Topol Review, led by cardiologist, geneticist, and digital medicine researcher Dr Eric Topol kicked off in April 2018 with the aim of determining how best to harness technology to improve patient care. Once complete, it will feed into the NHS workforce strategy for England to 2027 as new technologies are gradually introduced into practice.
Prior to the release of the official report, Health Education England has published an interim report to begin the conversation by outlining the potential of recent developments. light of this, we’re looking into the changing face of the NHS and the skills and attributes required from healthcare workers in a digital future:
Over the last two decades, the NHS has amassed an overwhelming amount of data. So far, however, the goal of using this data to improve the quality and accessibility of the health service has been restricted by a talent gap; it has suffered from a lack of employees equipped with the analytical skills necessary to uncover key insights from an ocean of information.
If they are to tackle this talent gap, the NHS will need an influx of skilled data scientists with the ability to identify patterns in both structured and unstructured records. As an example, Leeds Teaching Hospitals analyse approximately one million unstructured case files every month. To date, they have managed to identify 30 distinct areas for improvement by using natural language processing to identify wasteful procedures such as unnecessary diagnostic tests and treatments.
Historically, the NHS has been hampered in its digital evolution by behavioural barriers such as lack of trust in new technologies, the precedent of poor previous experience with electronic records and a general fear of change. In the age of information, however, a new breed of innovator is needed to lead the digital charge within the NHS and help integrate new technologies quickly and efficiently.
Of course, new areas of knowledge will be required for specialists - an understanding of genomics or AI algorithms, for example, and the ability to analyse and understand the implications of big datasets. First and foremost, however, the NHS needs staff who are digitally adept; they require professionals who are equipped with a certain degree of digital literacy to ensure a smooth transition through technological innovation.
While technological developments promise vast potential in improving patient care, they do not remove nor threaten the need for soft skills within the workforce. The Topol Review interim report states attributes such as communication, compassion, empathy, and caring will retain a central role for clinicians in a digital future. Furthermore, the efficiency driven by the adoption of new technologies will create an opportunity for clinicians to prioritise the patient-doctor relationship without being burdened by administrative duties.
Even in data science, the ability to transform raw data into a story with a headline that managers can understand will never be underestimated. Great communicators, as well as creative and critical thinkers, will play a key role in harnessing emerging technologies and integrating them into practice to improve patient outcomes.
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