AI used to rank NHS patients in order of urgency to clear COVID-19 backlog

NHS hospitals are using AI to prioritise urgent appointments with a scoring system, as number waiting for treatment could reach 10 million by Christmas.
By Sara Mageit
06:06 AM

With a large backlog of appointments caused by coronavirus, some hospitals in England and Wales have started using algorithms to prioritise patients most urgently in need of care and to help clear the mounting numbers.

Multiple companies are vying to get into this space from Babylon's AI services which provide health information, to DrDoctor, which recently released a new AI software adopted to collate and automatically rate patient’s responses with digital questionnaires.

WHY IT MATTERS

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DrDoctor’s software assesses the urgency of a patient's illness with a traffic light scoring system, giving patients either a green, amber or a red score.

Tom Whicher, CEO of DrDoctor estimates that if every hospital in the country adopted his technology, the time needed to get through the backlog would be dramatically reduced from four years to ten months.

DrDoctor has also stressed that the tool will not decide anything for patients, it does not make clinical suggestions or rule out any patients form receiving care. The platform will present the data and the clinician ultimately makes the decision.

AI like this can utilize machine-learning technology to identify unnecessary appointments. Not only will it reduce the backlog burden, but it can also help to significantly alleviate the need for in-person appointments, pushing towards more virtual interactions for less urgent medical needs.

THE LARGER TREND

Waiting lists have grown tremendously because of the pandemic, prompting senior health officials to warn the public that 10 million people could be waiting for treatment by Christmas.

Several hospitals in England have already rolled out DrDoctor’s tool, including community hospital, Aneurin Bevan, which signed a four-year deal with the provider earlier this year and is using it across 20 specialisms. 

However, a concern raised recently is the theme of digital health gap inequalities in which researchers have warned that such tools could worsen health inequalities due to certain groups having greater access to the internet and technology, as well as being more digitally literate. This could mean that certain groups might not be accounted for in the data.

There is also trepidation surrounding a computer’s ability to effectively decide whether medical needs are deemed as urgent. Particularly as health providers such as Babylon Health have been critised for claiming its symptom checker could diagnose health issues.

ON THE RECORD

Whicher told Healthcare IT News: "Our mission at DrDoctor is to solve the challenge of rising demand and costs in healthcare and ensure every patient receives the care they need. We're delighted to be able to present real world examples of this working at scale. There is no doubt that healthcare is at an inflection point. It's medicine's industrial revolution. By working together we can use technology to rise to this challenge"

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