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03.09.18

‘Much more robust’ trials needed before NHS fully embraces artificial intelligence, says RCP

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has issued recommendations for the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to support doctors in providing patient care.

Following a roundtable discussion between experts, the RCP has urged doctors to appraise the technology, regulators to develop guidance and evaluation methods, and for the industry as a whole to address real-world challenges.

RCP registrar and president-elect Dr Andrew Goddard said: “AI to support patient care is being developed in a variety of ways and has huge potential to support doctors and enable them to spend more time with patients.

“However, we mustn’t get carried away or think that the AI applications developed so far can replace a fully trained and qualified doctor. We need much more robust trials and evidence to work out how it can be best used.

“So let’s embrace it, evaluate it using the same rigorous standards we apply to any new medical innovation and educate ourselves on the opportunities AI offers to support great patient care.”

Experts across the sector met and gave their recommendations, discussing what AI means for the doctors of the future, although they concluded that AI is already a reality for doctors right now.

This fast-moving industry offers many opportunities for the health sector, but the RCP warned that it “also presents challenges which should be carefully considered.”

“It can take the form of a diagnostic or prognosis tool, service-planning tool, support self-care and prescriptions, amongst other activities,” the royal college added in a statement.

The organisation added that there is a “significant opportunity through new technology to support the role of doctors,” but urged care and consideration regarding “the safety, societal, legal, educational and ethical implications it presents.”

Jeremy Hunt announced back in April that tens of thousands of NHS staff could be trained to use AI and robotics, with a review led by Dr Eric Topol looking into equipping staff so they can effectively deliver the latest treatments.

Topol has previously led a US research programme on the use of technology and data and is now investigating how the NHS could invest in technologies in artificial intelligence, robotics, genomics and digital medicine.

In January, Richard Kerr from the Royal College of Surgeons also wrote for NHE about how developments in AI “suggest a future where surgeons and machines will operate in closer synergy, one making up for the weaknesses of the other.”

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