Equipping the NHS to provide the future of digital healthcare

Wednesday 13 February 2019

Health Education England has released its independent report into how to equip the NHS for the future of digital healthcare. 

The Government-commissioned Topol Review was led by cardiologist and digital medicine expert Dr Eric Topol and makes a range of recommendations to help the NHS capitalise on advances in digital medicine, genomics, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). 

The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) has welcomed the broad themes of the review and its recommendations around safe frameworks for technological development, while issuing some caution around the radiology AI productivity projections within the report.

RCR President Dr Nicola Strickland said: 

“The Topol Review provides a useful outline to help the NHS foster the leadership and expertise it crucially needs to maximise emerging digital technologies.

“We are pleased to see repeated reference to the need for frameworks for the validation and regulation of new technologies, and recognition that the digitalised future of the NHS will require significant professional support, including the need for improved IT, bioinformatics expertise and wider NHS staff training. 

“The RCR very much agrees with assertions that AI programmes will improve diagnostic decision-making and save time. However, the estimates around radiologist productivity gains in Chapter 7 of the review have been oversimplified and should be treated with caution by health leaders.

“It is misleading to suggest that savings seen with particular breast screening AI can be extrapolated and applied to the gamut of clinical radiology work – ranging from patient interactions and hands-on scanning and image-guided surgery, to complex, cross-referenced scan interpretation which is beyond the scope of developmental AI.   

“Even if the projection of AI saving the equivalent of 500 radiologists were realised, the UK is currently short of 1,000 diagnostic radiologists and hundreds of interventional radiologists, with shortages only predicted to grow without more investment in new consultants. AI will help ease radiologist workforce pressures, but is no magic bullet.   

“Meanwhile, we welcome the report’s focus on rooting genomics literacy within the health service, and its calls for a safe framework for using genomic data.

“Personalised medicine is already practised in clinical oncology – for example, our members prescribe specific drugs for some cancer patients dependent on genetic markers. The RCR has already embedded genetics in its clinical oncology curriculum, and we will explore the development of accreditation for genomics testing as the field expands.”