Hype and hope – picturing the future of a technology optimised-healthcare system

By Rebecca Bazeley

2 July 2018


Summary: As the NHS turns 70 Cambridge science for health think tank, the PHG Foundation, urges a roadmap for futuristic healthcare

Context: The run-up to the NHS 70th birthday is seeing the publication of informative reports which ask urgent questions around how technologies including genomics, precision medicine, data, and artificial intelligence are set to transform the NHS.

PHG Foundation is going further - to identify the most pressing implications for UK society as a whole. We are the only UK think-tank dedicated solely to making science work for health, and this mission has never been more important, or more challenging amid a vortex of scientific discovery and innovation, pressure on NHS services, changing societal needs and priorities, and disruptive technologies.

Bringing unique multidisciplinary expertise to bear on these questions as well as extensive consultation with scientific, healthcare and policy experts (including our My Healthy Future programme), we offer in-depth insights and expert comment on the broad questions highlighted in reports from other major healthcare think tanks:

NHS at 70 - comment from Dr Mark Kroese, Director, PHG Foundation

As we look back and celebrate the momentous achievements of the NHS over the last 70 years, it is vital to also look forward. The pace of change in science and society mean fundamental shifts in healthcare are going to happen - and are likely to accelerate over the next 10 to 20 years. Preparation is urgently needed now to ensure the NHS is ready to meet the health challenges of the future and is poised to maximise for all UK citizens the benefits of the many exciting technologies and new interventions becoming available.

AI for healthcare - comment from Dr Sobia Raza, Head of Science

(in her evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence (AI))

AI developments within healthcare are largely contingent on using large patient datasets. We know … that patients and people are generally unaware how patient data is used within the NHS, let alone by researchers and commercial organisations. The discussions around AI should include a broader conversation about how health data is vital to these uses in terms of improving healthcare and services. It ought to be as much a conversation about patient health data and its uses as it is about AI per se as a technology.

Regulation of algorithms in healthcare - comment from Alison Hall, Head of Humanities

(in response to the Algorithms in Decision-Making report from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee) 

Rather than ‘algorithmic exceptionalism’ – an approach that could easily result in laws that are not future proofed and quickly become outdated as technologies are integrated into practice - we need proportionate and harmonised approaches to algorithm regulation and governance. The challenge will be to find policy options that also win public trust.

The role of developers and commercial companies underpins the delivery of rapid technological changes that will drive improvements in safety and public services. This will require proportionate incentives and opportunities to work collaboratively with regulators and policy makers and data subjects for mutual benefit. The next phase of our Regulating Algorithms in Healthcare project, which encompasses intellectual property and liability, should offer some constructive solutions.

Notes: We provide expert rapid response, comment and interviews on current biomedical research and innovations in healthcare, within our fields of expertise. Journalists looking for comment on current news can contact Rebecca Bazeley on +44 (0)7505092081

Making the most of science -  comment from: Dr Philippa Brice, Head of External Affairs, PHG Foundation

The NHS is the envy of the world. To keep it that way, we have to ensure it can make the most of science to offer more precise, personalised and patient-centred care. This will mean enabling UK health systems, health professionals and citizens to work and interact in new ways to offer the best possible combinations of human-driven, technology-enabled medicine.

Wellbeing and person-centred care - comment from Dr Hilary Burton, My Healthy Future

Digital technologies, AI, genomics and other ‘omics technologies bring opportunities for improving health throughout life by tackling causes of disease, helping people to understand their own health and ways to keep healthy and spotting disease at an early stage when there is potential for cure or less invasive management with better outcomes. New technologies enable this prevention to be increasingly personalised with interventions tailored to the needs of individuals.

Overall this should mean better outcomes for individuals and potential cost savings for the NHS, but achieving these benefits will require health systems and society to address some very important questions. Achieving the optimum balance of benefits and harms; ensuring that the benefits of new technologies are equitably distributed in the population; responsibly setting up and managing the necessary underlying databases; and maintaining and interpreting the delivery of person centred care when technologies seem to be depersonalising health transactions are some of the challenges that we will be addressing in the My Healthy Future programme.

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