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Inside the Lab Technology and innovation

One Giant Leap for Healthcare

If there is one certainty in healthcare, it’s that the field is all about people – people who deliver care, people who receive care, and people who invest in care. But a new certainty is emerging – that people alone are no longer sufficient. Now, technology is required alongside them to ensure quality, patient access, and healthcare delivery that is sustainable. So how would a combination of world-class technology, people, knowledge, and data work together in a model system for healthcare in the UK?

In May, Prime Minister Theresa May addressed the nation on the government’s Industrial Strategy, highlighting the ways in which artificial intelligence (AI) can help in the fight against cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and dementia. AI is all about bringing together the combined knowledge and expertise of our people with the potential of technology. With the wealth of expertise in our National Health Service (NHS) and our desire to adopt new technologies, the UK really is ahead of the game in this arena and is well-positioned to manage the needs of its patients.

It is estimated that one in every two people in the UK will develop cancer during their lifetime (1), which amounts to over 2.5 million people in the country currently receiving cancer care (2). People living with cancer deserve the best possible diagnostics and treatment, which are best delivered by a combination of the expertise of our healthcare professionals and technological advancements.

As the NHS celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, digital transformation is clearly one of the government’s key focus areas in supporting care access and quality across the country. Spearheaded by the NHS, the UK has been pioneering healthcare innovations and technology for several decades, attracting research investments from organizations across the world.

When coupled with other innovative technologies, such as digital pathology, AI can significantly enhance the quality, accessibility, and timeliness of care. Imagine a world where clinical decisions can be made based on a database of millions of patients and how they have responded to a variety of treatments. It would enable us to tailor treatment to the individual by comparing their DNA with that of thousands of others from all over the world. If we want to increase our levels of certainty around disease diagnosis and treatment selection, the importance of establishing digital platforms to store and analyze big data seems clear – and it’s encouraging that we have already embarked upon this journey in the UK.

At this moment in British history, we have an enormous opportunity to build a cradle of scientific achievement for a better future. It is particularly exciting that the government has committed to investing 2.4 percent of GDP (about £80 billion) into research and development by 2027 (3). As the Prime Minister mentioned in her address, big data will be the key to supporting this R&D-driven future, and to facilitating further innovations. But it will require a change in culture around the use of data in the NHS and an infrastructure of its own. Another imperative, according to the Prime Minister in her speech, is partnership between government, industry, and academic institutions. A point that addresses a need to build not just the systems and infrastructure for patient care, but also skill and expertise in the industry, so that we can ensure that we are all equipped to use solutions like AI.

I believe that, with the Prime Minister’s address, the foundations have been laid for a technology-enabled healthcare system in the UK. The next step? Ensuring that these innovations have the mandates and funding they need for implementation and broad diffusion in the market. Only in that way can we guarantee equitable access for all patients in the UK.

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  1. Cancer Research UK, “1 in 2 people in the UK will get cancer” (2015). Available at: bit.ly/1Dwprei. Accessed 30 May 2018.
  2. Macmillan Cancer Support, “Statistics fact sheet” (2017). Available at: bit.ly/2vIqiL9. Accessed 30 May 2018.
  3. GOV.UK, “PM speech on science and modern Industrial Strategy: 21 May 2018” (2018). Available at: bit.ly/2Iybl9E. Accessed 30 May 2018.
About the Author
Geoff Twist

Geoff Twist is Managing Director at Roche Diagnostics UK & Ireland, Burgess Hill, United Kingdom.

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