Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

NHS wants automated voice calls to diagnose

Steve Rogerson
June 18, 2019

The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is working towards a goal in which an automated telephone answering service will be able to ask about symptoms and give diagnostic advice, according to Sam Shah (pictured), director of digital development at the NHS, speaking at last week’s IoT World Europe Summit in London.
With 1.5 million people using the NHS in England every day, it was important, said Shah, to develop systems that worked for clinicians and patients, especially with the number of these patients now using connected devices.
“This has changed the way we work in healthcare,” he said. “People can get access to data on line. People don’t necessarily need to pitch up at a GP’s practice to have an interaction.”
However, he warned about using statistics that showed, for example, 86 per cent of UK homes being online and 82% of the population being online every day.
“The sickest people are often in the other 14%,” he said. “The sickest people are often the most deprived. The people who are most likely to benefit from healthcare may not be the people who are online.”
However, he said it was important systems directed people to where they could get the best care. For example, someone feeling unwell may not need to see a doctor.
“What we need is a clinical tool that gives you what you need that may not involve seeing a doctor,” he said. “A lot of people in A&E [accident and emergency] do not need to be there, but they need to be somewhere. You need a service that analyses the clinical need.”
He also warned about designing a system with really efficient technology because it might not get used if it does not fulfil the need of patients.
“We are seeking ways to solve this,” he said. “We are looking at delivering drugs, automating outpatient appointments. We want to let users have their own way to book an appointment using an app or online.”
He said the NHS web site was the most used in the world.
“We have really good content but we are not getting it out there to meet most people’s needs,” he said. “It is flat content.”
He said there were 380,000 health apps around the world. There is now one more because the NHS has created its own. But he said the problem with all the apps was they all used different terms for the same thing.
“We need a naming convention for appointments,” he said.
Then there was the issue of people who phoned the health service.
“In most cases, we already know why they are calling,” he said. “What we haven’t done is connect this to our voice channel so when they phone it identifies them and predicts why they are calling. It is still early days, but it might one day be able to ask about symptoms and give diagnostic advice.”
To deal with all of this, a new body ahs been formed called NHSX to focus on user experiences. It is looking at open standards and interoperability so other devices can connect into the technology the NHS uses.
“We are looking at innovation and transformation,” said Shah. “We are not short of ideas; it is the adoption and the scaling, and that is what we are going to focus on. We want to help SMEs take great ideas to scale. The NHS is changing. Digitalisation is a journey for us. We have ambitious plans that may take ten years, but it will be never ending. It will be continuous.”