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UK’s NHS to offer incentives to providers who embrace AI

To help accelerate digital transitions across the National Health System, UK healthcare providers will be given financial incentives to substitute some clinical tasks with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies beginning in 2020.

Jeff Rowe | Jun 06, 2019 12:00 am

There’s no shortage of healthcare stakeholders eager to incorporate new AI-driven tools into an array of healthcare systems and services, but across the pond government officials have committed to stepping up with new financial incentives.

Speaking at a digital health conference on June 5 sponsored by Reform, a leading Westminster think tank for public service reform, Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, pledged to consider reimbursement reforms to the NHS tariff and other payment systems to incentivize the uptake of AI technologies across the health system.

Stevens said the changes will take effect from April 2020, resulting in NHS organizations being “properly rewarded” for investing in AI and machine learning.

“We are seeing an artificial intelligence revolution that will be a big part of our future over the next five years, with technologies that can cut the time that patients wait for scan results and ease the burden on hardworking staff,” he said. “We want the NHS to be first out of the blocks.

“We are kicking off a global ‘call for evidence’ for NHS staff and technology innovators to come forward with their best ideas for how we should adjust our financial frameworks to best incentivize the use of safe and evidence-based AI and machine learning technologies across the NHS.”

For example, according to officials at NHS England, hospitals across the system provide more than 100 million outpatient appointments, and one of the goals of the NHS’s Long-Term Plan is make use of AI and machine learning to help clinicians interpret scans.

Officials said examples of where AI and machine learning trials have demonstrated the potential to increase efficiency include the two million breast screenings carried out in the UK each year, in which each result is reviewed by two clinicians.

Last year, Simon Eccles, chief clinical information officer for health and care at the NHS, said the time was right to apply technologies such as AI in the health system.

“The model of care [in the NHS] is the 1948 model – the GP in the surgery, the community practice and district nurse in the car, the hospital with consultants and junior doctors in white coats,” he said. “We don’t use AI much in healthcare – and we should.”

In February, the government released a code of conduct for the use of AI and other data-driven technologies in the NHS, and one of the reported objectives was to “make sure the NHS gets a fair deal from the commercialization of its data resources”.