Matt Hancock, the current Secretary of State for Health, recently declared that “the tech revolution is coming to the NHS”. It is anticipated that technology in its various shapes and forms will emerge as a key feature of current and future healthcare services. So much so that healthcare systems face a range of dilemmas about how far technology can be integrated into existing systems or indeed replace many of the tasks and activities carried about by healthcare staff.

In the following video, I talk to Dr Stephen Timmons about the role of technology in the provision of healthcare:

Technology is a broad and wide ranging concept. It is often connected to what is referred to as automation: technology that aims to control and monitor the production and delivery of goods and services currently performed by humans.

A good way to start to break it down is thinking about the following key areas:

Telecare/telehealth: These are terms used to describe the use of a range of technologies to support and monitor people’s health in a home environment. These technologies can range from alarm systems, medication dispensers

Mobiles and Apps: a range of mobile applications are being developed. A notable example is the use of mobile technologies such as Skype and Facetime to facilitate GP consultations. The GP at Hand promoted by Babylon is a notable recent example of this.

Robotics: The use of robots in surgical settings has been documented (e.g. Da Vinci surgery ) and there is increasingly interest in the use of robots in other settings such as in social care.

AI or ‘Artificial intelligence’ is an umbrella term comprising a number of techniques which is focused on machine learning (ML) which rely on complex statistical methods to recognise patterns in data and subsequently make predictions based on these data (Future Advocacy 2018: 9).

A good example of using AI in the NHS comes from the work of Deep Mind and its collaboration with Royal Free Hospital Foundation Trust.

Debates continue about AI and automation and while there is much optimism about the use of this technology, there are important ethical, social and political challenges that still need to be addressed. These challenges include the effect AI will have on human relationships, the use, storage, and sharing of data, the extent to which these technologies will be accessible to all the population, and the implications of collaboration between public and private sector in the development of these tools.