Theresa May on Healthcare AI: a Crown Jewel for Preventative Care

Theresa May - AI Healthcare in the UK

UK Prime Minister Theresa May recently announced that the UK will use artificial intelligence (AI), together with NHS’s massive set of electronic health records (EHR) “to transform the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and dementia by 2030.”

May’s bold initiative is a strong message recognizing the value that machine learning and artificial intelligence bring to medicine today. The future holds even more promise. Other countries would be wise to follow Prime Minister May’s lead.

Countries with national health care programs like Great Britain and Israel are, not surprisingly, at the forefront of many of these initiatives. The UK’s NHS serves some 65 million people, generating a vast repository of medical records. The NHS wants all patient medical records to be in digital format (commonly known as EHR or EMR) by 2020. Israel has decades of EHR data from 8.9 million citizens in the country’s various HMOs. Many of the more than 300 digital health technology startups in Israel, including Medial EarlySign, utilize AI in their work.

Healthcare AI Expectations are the New Reality

Prime Minister May highlighted that AI and healthcare data are “a new weapon…in the fight against disease,” emphasizing that the “[l]ate diagnosis of otherwise treatable illnesses is one of the biggest causes of avoidable deaths.” Her statements align with public expectations of how patients and healthcare organizations will benefit from machine learning technologies.  A 2017 PwC survey found that 66% of the 2,500 consumers and business leaders polled believe that AI will have a big impact on treating cancer and other diseases.

PwC 2017 AI healthcare survey data

Prime Minister May shared her optimism when she spoke about healthcare AI on May 21, 2018. Early detection of cancers and chronic medical conditions are ideal use cases for how machine learning applications can support and enhance the practice of medicine. A significant number of healthcare algorithms are already able to do this.

Quite a few of them utilize medical imaging. Arterys, for example, developed an AI-based cardiac image analysis platform for heart attack, stroke, and coronary artery disease. IDx, LLC’s AI software performs retinal image analysis to detect varying degrees of diabetic retinopathy. Medial EarlySign collaborated with Oxford University in England on colorectal cancer research. In April 2018, the University of Oxford published an independent validation of Medial EarlySign’s machine learning-based ColonFlag solution,* which analyzes only routine EHR data, to identify patients with an elevated risk for having colorectal cancer.2

Analyzing massive quantities of medical data from patient EHRs is an essential step when developing disease-specific predictive healthcare algorithms. A critical challenge when successfully implementing AI solutions is to deal with often incomplete or abnormal data. The UK’s success is partially dependent upon the country’s ability to compile and prepare an accurate and up-to-date NHS digital database of patients’ EHR.

AI Healthcare Solutions Align with Value-Based Care

The NHS is funded by UK taxpayers. Prime Minister May’s support for AI initiatives is already aligned with the agency’s focus on providing patients with the best possible outcomes while “deliver[ing] value for money for the public.”

AI-based healthcare solutions offer opportunities for timely intervention and value-based solutions to deliver personalized care in any country. This is population health management (PHM) challenge on a grand scale.

A National Approach to PHM

AI and machine learning in medicine will become more common. UK Prime Minister Theresa May is the first world leader to publicly advance the adoption of healthcare AI solutions across a country’s entire healthcare system. May acknowledged the value of these technologies, stating that they can help prevent the “[l]ate diagnosis of otherwise treatable illnesses [which] is one of the biggest causes of avoidable deaths.” This is groundbreaking because no other country has taken such an unequivocal position.

That is why it is remarkable to see the leader of a developed country advance national AI healthcare solutions in her country to potentially “save thousands of lives.” Prime Minister May placed herself and the UK in a prominent role in the AI health revolution. What other countries will be next to follow her lead?

1ColonFlag for identifying elevated risk for colorectal cancer bears a CE mark. In the U.S., Medial EarlySign commercializes LGI Flag, which identifies individuals at high risk of having lower GI disorders. ColonFlag is not cleared for commercial use in the U.S.
2Computer-Assisted Flagging of Individuals at High Risk of Colorectal Cancer in a Large Health Maintenance Organization Using the ColonFlag Test, Goshen, et. al, DOI: 10.1200/CCI.17.00130 JCO Clinical Cancer Informatics – published online March 29, 2018


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