Artificial Intelligence – Shaving The GP Workload?
Artificial intelligence (AI) is very much a hot topic right now, with high-level companies such as Google increasingly incorporating AI into their technology. AI has the potential to make all of our jobs easier in various ways, from allowing us to better and more efficiently analyse data, to automating mundane tasks, freeing us up to focus on more important elements of our jobs.
So what has this got to do with GPs? The answer is that a number of companies are now working on artificial intelligence technology that, if successful, could significantly cut GP workloads and patient waiting times. In this article, we take a look at some of the innovations currently being worked on, the benefits they could potentially bring and the possible risks for GPs and patients.
How artificial intelligence for GPs is being developed
One project that is currently being developed is an artificial intelligence virtual GP. This is being developed by the University of Essex, in partnership with digital company Orbital Media and a number of GP practices.
The aim of this virtual GP is to provide the first point of call for patients with minor ailments, such as colds, coughs and hay fever. The program will be accessible online and is not intended to replace traditional GPs, but rather is designed to encourage patients to practise effective self-care.
Another option being explored is Google’s DeepMind Health. This is currently being trialled by Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, where Google’s machine learning algorithms are being used to analyse eye scans, looking for potential abnormalities which need closer examination. The aim here is to automate a time-consuming process, saving time for doctors, allowing them to focus on providing high-quality care to patients.
In general, most artificial intelligence for GPs and other doctors is focused on these two concepts – allowing patients to access healthcare information faster and more easily, and analysing data to look for patterns and anomalies that could suggest potential healthcare issues which a human healthcare worker will need to follow up on.
Benefits of AI for GPs and patients
For patients, AI technology has the potential to allow them to access better quality information about their illnesses online. Given that an increasing number of people use the internet as their first port of call when they become ill (with mixed results) having more accurate systems in place to help patients self-diagnose minor illnesses and find accurate self-care advice has the potential to make patients safer.
By encouraging patients with minor illnesses to practice self-care, rather than seeing their GP, this could also reduce strain on GP surgeries, making it easier and faster for people with more serious illnesses to get an appointment and cutting waiting times. This could also reduce the pressure on GPs and give them more time to focus on the patients who most need their help.
Technology which automates time-intensive, mundane tasks, such as looking through scans for signs of abnormalities, could also free up more time for doctors to focus on patient care. It also has the potential to make such tasks more accurate, removing the possibility of human error.
Ultimately, if implemented correctly, AI-based medical technology has the potential to allow GPs and other doctors to provide a faster, better service while allowing patients to access accurate healthcare information quickly and more effectively, while also meaning those that do need to see a GP won’t have to wait so long.
Potential risks of using AI for healthcare
The big thing both doctors and patients are likely to worry most about with introducing AI to healthcare is the technology’s capacity for making mistakes. If the technology does not work as intended or is used incorrectly by patients or doctors, it could lead to misdiagnoses or serious healthcare problems simply being missed altogether.
To ensure this does not become a problem, significant safeguards will have to be put in place and any AI-based technology will have to undergo years of testing before it can become commonplace. It will also be vital to educate both healthcare workers and patients about potential limitations of the technology and the importance of seeking a real, human doctor’s opinion if there is any uncertainty.
However, if the right precautions are taken, artificial intelligence for GPs and healthcare, in general, could be revolutionary, allowing healthcare resources to be focused far more effectively on those that need them most.
Find flexible GP out of hours care work that fits around you
East Berkshire Primary Care (EBPC) Out of Hours Service is a social enterprise run on a not-for-profit basis. We supply NHS services, including urgent out-of-hours medical care, for East Berkshire Clinical Commissioning Groups. Our service covers areas including Bracknell Forest, Slough, Windsor, Ascot and Maidenhead.
At EBPC, our ethos revolves around providing a great service that works for both patients and GPs. By offering GP appointments outside of core surgery hours, we give patients a more convenient way to see a doctor, making primary health care more accessible. For GPs, we offer flexible work that they can fit around their other commitments, making it ideal for those who need to pick up additional work, or who can’t manage standard surgery hours.
In a recent survey of our GPs, we found that 95% felt they were well supported by EBPC Management and that the same percentage also agreed that they felt able to provide the level of clinical care they would wish to when working with EBPC.
With our service, we offer a supportive, flexible way for GPs to better manage their workload to suit their needs, while also providing a first-class service to patients that matches their healthcare needs.