Healthcare providers in the NHS need to ensure that they keep their focus on patients and the culture of their organisations as they look to use artificial intelligence-assisted (AI) solutions to help relieve workloads, speakers told the Intelligent Health conference . 

“In the world we are living in, there is information overload, and it is hard to focus on what we need to prioritize,” chief clinican information officer at Hampshire Hospital NHS Trust Tamara Everington told an audience at the afternoon session “A proactive NHS – Moonshot or line of sight?”

She said: “We need to focus on the emotional connection. It’s what drives human beings.” 

Robert Smillie, CMIO responsible for clinical informatics and innovation at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, said it is critical to focus on “people foremost”, with the technology coming later.

He added: “To move to being proactive requires a change in attitude. We need to train staff and give people the freedom to change and to fail. Feelings of safety don’t just happen.” 

He echoed Everington’s warning about the potential impact of innovation on working environments, warning, in particular about the amount of alerts sent out by electronic systems on “background techno stress.” 

Building resilience and new capability in workforce 

Recognising the primacy of local staff in an era of innovation is especially important at a time when health organisations in the UK are worried about retaining talent,” said Sigal Hachlili Dwyer, director of AI, Data & Digital Innovation at Guy’s and St. Thomas’s NHS Foundation Trust.

In addition, said Smillie, innovation will require new skill sets in employees. 

Hachlili Dwyer noted that traditional IT teams in the NHS are not that familiar with AI technologies. Given the difficulty of competing with private sector salaries for tech talent, she said, some trusts are looking at home-grown talent, including medical professionals who are interested in hybrid roles.  

“The academic workforce from KCL, UCL, are finding we do actually have interesting data scientists and clinicians joining forces with us,” she said. “We are talking at various events at medical schools, can offer these types of opportunities to medical professionals.” 

Value for money in AI 

Everington also spoke about the difficulty of balancing the needs of continuous improvement within organisations with change imposed from central government.

She added: “We often get digital funding with a specific ask to do specific things that might not be on my real work agenda to fix right now. It’s a tension, and a difficult space to occupy. You need to hold on to values, principles and culture.”

Although the number of healthcare applications are expanding by the day, organisations need to do due diligence to make sure they actually live up to the hype, said Hachlili Dwyer, adding that Guys’ has an AI evaluation unit to look at whether apps are actually time saving. 

Understanding how challenging an organisation finds AI can help decide how, and to what extent, to use the technology, according to Lee Rickles, CIO and programme director at Humber Teaching NHS Foundation Trust.

 “It’s about using AI if you have a case to make, balancing a risk and benefit,” he says. “The way to get AI used is to show it can be effective as part of a solution.”