I trained as an engineer, which means that I love solving really hard problems and equally can’t stand it when technology is incorrectly applied to situations that demand an urgent solution. I remain unapologetically optimistic about how the appropriate use of co-designed technology can dramatically upgrade health, care and life sciences and consequently patient outcomes across the planet.
Technology, particularly artificial intelligence, has a clear role to play in improving health care provision. This can entail automating repeatable, well-understood tasks, thereby freeing up clinical experts to apply their skills and advanced treatments (personalized medicine) at an individual patient level. It can also help deliver the same standard of care we have come to expect in much of the first world to other populations that lack either the trained medical experts or the equipment and resources required for optimal healthcare.
This is true of radiation oncology where over half the world’s population don’t have access to these treatments despite many living in countries which can afford the equipment, albeit lacking the trained healthcare workforce to operate it. As is far too often the case where effective treatments already exist, many people with cancer will never have the option of a cure.
With much of the innovation in healthcare now being driven by digital health (that is, approaches which rely on the use of patient data) there is an increased focus on digital health equality. This means ensuring that artificial intelligence systems are not only trained on data that accurately represents a diverse target population, but are also delivered in a form where they can benefit all patients, not just those who are digitally literate or have access to resources such as health trackers or regular diagnostic testing. Despite today’s hyper-connected world, there remain huge disparities in the standard of care available to different populations, whether on a global or regional basis.
To tackle this imbalance, cross-sector collaboration – which occurs when patients, clinicians, regulators, payers and policy-makers all come together speaking the same language, motivated by a common goal and shared understanding of the problem at hand – is what will drive real change: improving or “scaling up” the delivery of the standard of care that some but not all of us are lucky enough to enjoy today.
After all, engineers can solve any problem you set them: you just need to ask the right question!
Dr Peter Bannister is CCSO at Mirada Medical. He is an Academy of Medical Sciences Future Leader in Innovation, Enterprise and Research (FLIER), Executive Chair of the Institution of Engineering Healthcare Sector, Honorary Professor at the University of Birmingham Institute of Applied Health Research and host of The Evidence Space podcast (https://www.theiet.org/impact-society/sectors/healthcare/healthcare-podcasts/).