‘White hot heat’ is not good for a tech-driven NHS but patients and health profs could be – comment #AI

There’s a part of me that’s warming to the new Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock. At least he has a passion – technology.  So much so, that the health tech sector and techies must be drooling at the prospects.

Last week Mr Hancock set out his ‘vision for a more tech-driven NHS’ at NHS Expo 18 (the NHS equivalent of the Ideal Home exhibition). You can read his speech here.

Among other things he announced the testing of a new NHS app, a £200 million digital fund that NHS Trusts can bid for, and a HealthTech Advisory Board be chaired by Ben Goldacre (@bengoldacre) who has shone the light on ‘Bad Science’ in his Guardian column and campaigned assiduously for greater openness and transparency in health research.

The Board, Mr Hancock said, will consist of ‘tech experts, clinicians and academics, and, as in the case of Ben, people who combine that holy trinity 3 in 1.’ I smiled at that. No patients or the public. Perhaps we are regarded as too holier than though. My wife, Nicky, does tell me I take the moral high ground far too much.

The Secretary of State also announced ‘A new code of conduct for artificial intelligence (AI) and other data-driven technologies will allow NHS patients to benefit from the latest innovations.’  Good to see but depressing reading from a patient and public perspective. There is little or no acknowledgement of what feels like the most important design principle – the need to co-produce health technology solutions with patients, carers and the public, health professionals and others as part of the design team. In fact, shouldn’t it be the first principle? I do wonder who writes this stuff sometimes.  Anyway, you can give your views on the Code here.

My own experience is that the Artificial Intelligence (AI) sector has a lot of learning to do on how to work with patients, carers and the public.* It might like to think it’s cool and funky but that doesn’t necessarily make it any more more inclusive than a 200 year old institution. In the excitement it can lose sight of the end-user. Nesta has done some great work in this area already and is one to follow as the debate continues. You might want to look at their report ‘Confronting Dr Robot’ from earlier this year.

If Matt Hancock really does want a technological revolution in the NHS then somehow he’s got to stay on the right side of ‘White Hot Heat’ talk which – even for me as a non-techie – I can appreciate is not good for your average circuit board and likely to underwhelm. He has to ensure it makes a difference for those on the ground giving or receiving care where the technology is often criminally poor. More bottom-up than top down. More one-click than silicon tower. Grounding design and development in the experiences and insights of those who use and work in the NHS at every level is the way forward.

That’s enough from 23 Railway Cuttings this morning……

Have a great week.

*For the last two years the Independent Reviewers of DeepMind Health have asked me to conduct an external assessment of DeepMind’s approach to patient and public involvement. My recommendations are included in their last annual report here.

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