Health / Artificial intelligence offers opportunities in healthcare, meeting hears

THE PROSPECT of artificial intelligence (AI) being used in healthcare was discussed at a meeting this week – but it was stressed that this technology would not result in the loss of human interaction.

The topic was raised at a meeting of the Shetland integration joint board, which oversees health and social care in the isles, on Thursday.

Interim chief officer Jo Robinson said the area of AI is moving “very quickly” and was one the health board needs to keep an eye on.

AI has grown significantly in recent years, and it allows computers to carry out a range of tasks including identifying patterns and solving problems.

Robinson told the meeting that there is a draft AI strategy for the north of Scotland when it comes to healthcare.

“I don’t think anybody is suggesting that we would remove the quality or the need for interaction out of health care and

Interim chief officer for the Integration Joint Board Jo Robinson.

social care kind of situations,” she said.

“But where there are those areas that could be replaced by AI, that doesn’t take any of the quality aspect out of relationships, then there is an opportunity to move those sort of lower level jobs or repetitive jobs – or some things that computers just do better than human beings, or more accurately – into a more digitalised approach.”

Board chair Natasha Cornick questioned if AI could potentially fill gaps in the workforce caused by recruitment challenges.

Robinson said that would be the expectation – with people then being released into the “human jobs”

“It is about filling the gaps and looking at where we can get best value out of human beings,” she said.

Robinson stressed it is “not about taking away jobs” – especially because in some cases there are not the people available to do some roles.

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AI continues to be discussed at a national level when it comes to healthcare, and it is already being implemented.

NHS Grampian’s radiology department for instance has trialled using AI to help consultants screen for cancer.

In this case AI helps to flag up abnormalities, speeding up the process for staff.

The UK Government announced in June it would provide funding of more than £20 million to NHS trusts in England to accelerate deployment of AI tools.

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