Artificial intelligence and its role within GP surgeries

Technology marches relentlessly forward. What’s next and what uses might it have in general practice? Peter Brady, CEO of Orbital Media, considers artificial intelligence and what benefits it might bring to practice, patients and staff alike

A solution for GPs’ time spent on minor ailments

The amount of time spent with patients for self-treatable conditions is a well-known challenge for GP practices across the country – so much so that the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB) has put a cost of £2bn per year on treating these minor ailments and has identified this as one of the five examples of wastage in the NHS system.

It’s this problem that has inspired a partnership between Orbital Media, University of Essex, the NHS and Innovate UK to utilise artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technology to deliver online GP consultations. Using this technology ground-breaking, photo realistic avatars will serve medically-approved health advice which is certified and verified by health commissioners in response to consumers’ online searches.

Right now, an increasing number of people are searching their symptoms on Google only to be served up a multitude of answers. This new AI digital technology will use an interactive, engaging platform to cut through and enable consumers to make an informed choice regarding their self-treatment. The system will have red flags built into it so anything unusual or unexpected will immediately advise the patient to seek further assistance.

The benefits to general practice

The objective of this innovation is to relieve some of the pressure on GPs’ time in relation to conditions that can be self-treated with the right information; in addition, it will start to change patient behaviour by empowering them to make informed decisions about their self-care. Instead of being dependent on their GP, patients with self-treatable conditions will be able to access self-care information through photo-realistic avatar technology or video technology.

The importance of video in helping to change patient behaviour

The creation of ‘human’ avatars is one of the key elements that will drive behaviour change among patients. US research – published in the Journal of Behavioural Medicine – conducted on approximately 12,000 patients, demonstrated that very visual, video interventions can be incredibly effective at changing health behaviours in cases such as self-screening, sunscreen adherence or self-care in patients with heart failure.

This study suggested that the use of video offers many advantages:

  1. Less resource intensive for delivering educational content – significant savings of $5m in HIV education programme with 10,000 patients avoiding infections.
  2. Video interventions remove inconsistencies across educators through a standardised approach; inconsistency is currently an issue in a variety of self-treatment areas.
  3. People with low health literacy are especially receptive to video-based content.

The future for AI and machine learning in the health service

Focusing on minor ailments is just the beginning. There are a multitude of ways that these platforms can help patients and the NHS alike. For example, the approach lends itself perfectly to obtaining pre-operative information where time is limited as patient information can be gathered through a virtual consultation. There is also the potential to help with stigmatised conditions such as mental health and sexual health, where patients, especially men, can be reluctant to visit their GPs. AI/machine learning could help provide a first port of call, or stepping stone, that will ultimately improve patient outcomes.

Right now the focus is on delivering a successful solution for minor ailments. Users need to be able to navigate the system with ease, feel comfortable about using it and confident in the information provided. Once this is achieved in the area of minor ailments the principle can then be investigated for many other areas in the health service to the benefit patients and health care professionals alike.

Author Peter Brady is CEO of Orbital Media, the digital specialists developing this technology in partnership with the University of Essex and Innovate UK. Keep up-to-date with them via Twitter: @orbitalmedianet

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