Embracing the power of AI to improve outcomes for our customers 

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After speaking at the annual Education for Occupational and Public Health conference last month, our Division President, Dr Paul Williams further reflects on how Artificial Intelligence and other technologies can be used to enhance the way we support our customers – encouraging fellow leaders to understand the risks, but most importantly, embrace the opportunities that this new technology can bring. 

As Artificial Intelligence (AI) transforms the way we go about our daily lives, I’m extremely passionate about learning more about this constantly evolving technology, and in particular its potential to improve health outcomes.  

We all approach the topic from different perspectives. Someone training in medicine today will likely enter practice having known nothing but the opportunities machine learning and AI offers. For the many of us reading about the endless breakthroughs with these technologies, there is a huge amount to learn, and our mindsets may be challenged in ways we hadn’t imagined. 

Leveraging computers and machines to mimic the problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of the human mind, AI is already proving to be a valuable tool to augment skills and behaviours that were once only reserved for humans.  

I like to remind colleagues of the infamous Move 37 in the AlphaGo vs. Lee Sedol game of Go in 2016. AI turned on its head more than 5,000 years of established gaming strategy to beat the human mind through unorthodox and seemingly irrational thinking that ultimately led to a winning outcome. When considering healthcare, the opportunities for transformation are endless.  

Embracing AI in health presents a wealth of opportunities to revolutionise healthcare delivery, making it more efficient, personalised, and responsive. We’ve already seen some fantastic examples of AI being used in diagnostics, such as neural networks with built-in deep learning being used to analyse large amounts of data in mammogram images and accurately predict the risk of breast cancer occurrence. As part of another impressive breakthrough, in August this year the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommended doctors use AI to map out cancer patients’ radiotherapy treatment rather than oncologists manually – saving up to 80 minutes of planning time per patient.  

AI can also transform the way we communicate with patients or service users, doing so on their terms at a time that suits them, recognising the barriers that a 9 to 5 GP appointment can often place on an individual. Empowering people and offering choice can also improve the speed of disclosure, identifying potential diagnoses and treatment opportunities earlier. This is of course an area that needs to be explored and developed with caution and clear, established boundaries on ethical concerns, data privacy and security. But with many people already using AI tools as a default for seeking information on every aspect of their lives, including health, we need to realise that now is the time to embrace these opportunities. 

The pace of change is relentless. It’s something I’ve witnessed first-hand after visiting San Francisco earlier this year, when I found myself standing on the same road junction I had been stood at 12 months previously, except this time more than a third of the cars were now driverless – as more and more companies test their new technology there, training autonomous cars to navigate real world situations and share roads with humans.

As the leader of a business committed to both innovation and improved customer experience, I’m encouraging colleagues to utilise this technology both here in the UK and globally. We’ve seen tremendous innovation from our colleagues and are beginning to see the positive impact of AI across our divisions. 

To keep up with the remarkable transformation we’re witnessing, we are all going to need to develop new skills if we are to effectively work alongside AI and improve outcomes for all our customers. Like many, I am by no means an expert, but as we look to the future, I’m committed to continue learning to ensure our colleagues and customers feel the full benefits of this innovative technology. 

12 December, 2023