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24th July 2023

Buddhdev Pandya on the crucial question of AI and healthcare

Buddhdev Pandya


The concept of Artificial Intelligence, known as AI, is now a major point of discussion in the healthcare sectors and also the users of NHS. The world of artificial intelligence is a field of computer science that focuses on the development of intelligent machines and systems capable of performing tasks that typically require human intelligence. AI is based on the concept of creating computer systems that can learn, reason, problem-solve, and adapt based on data and experience.

At its core, AI is built on algorithms and mathematical models that enable machines to process and analyze data, recognize patterns, make predictions, and take actions or make decisions. These algorithms can be designed to mimic human cognitive processes, such as perception, reasoning, learning, and problem-solving.

Among its key components and approaches are Machine Learning, which involves machines learning from data and improving performance without being explicitly programmed. There is also the potential of Deep learning models, which can handle complex data, such as images or natural language, by hierarchically learning representations of the data. This is known as Natural Language Processing (NLP).

One of the most valuable assets of AI is the ability of machines to understand and interpret visual information from images or videos. This enables machines to recognize objects, detect patterns, and extract meaningful information from visual data.

Most of us are familiar with Robotics, which is also based on computer technology enabling machines to perceive and interact with their environment, make autonomous decisions, and perform physical tasks.

Overall, AI is a multidisciplinary field that combines computer science, mathematics, statistics, and cognitive science to create intelligent systems that can simulate human intelligence and perform tasks that were traditionally exclusive to humans. AI has the potential to significantly benefit the patient experience in hospitals.

The most important focus for any patient is the anxiety due to the delay in accessing a consultant and the expectations regarding the efficiency of the diagnostic process and follow-up care. The essence of the process is effective and simplified communication, as well as the quality of care. We have been accustomed to being seen by a medical professional face to face, which has a huge feel-good factor and instils confidence in the establishment.

Many users of our NHS services are sceptical of the changing culture of making appointments to see their GP and feel disfranchised when contacted by various support staff from the surgery or hospital outpatient department.

It is important to realize that we are already witnessing the computerization of medical records and the appointment system to ensure more efficient management of these processes. Patient records are shared digitally, allowing the entire medical record to be accessed during consultations instead of waiting for physical transfers between the GP surgery, testing laboratories, radiologists, and hospital consultants.

This is all part of the early introduction of the AI system, which is now being taken to a more advanced level for its use in diagnostic, treatment, and aftercare programs. AI can be incredibly useful in monitoring regional health conditions and analysing the responses of local GPs, even though it may sometimes cause discomforting thoughts. It is an asset, a complementary process with the ability to aid in the surveillance and early detection of disease outbreaks, track the spread of infectious diseases, and identify potential health risks in specific regions.

As technology updates with medical knowledge, it becomes more efficient at interpreting medical data, such as patient symptoms, test results, and medical histories, to support healthcare professionals in making accurate diagnoses and treatment recommendations. The cumulative data can also help provide more accurate evidence-based guidelines and suggest appropriate courses of action.

As we age and learn more about various conditions, advancements in AI technology would be able to provide us with early warnings of health risks and the early stages of these conditions.

AI is increasingly used in various medical fields for surgeries and life-saving procedures. Robotic surgery is one application known for its use in assisting surgeons in performing minimally invasive surgeries with enhanced precision and control. AI, radiology, and imaging are already used as aids in disease detection and diagnosis, improving accuracy and expediting the diagnostic process.

Similarly, AI is enabling early detection of heart conditions and assisting in cardiac procedures.

Robotic equipment is used in various surgical procedures across different medical specialties. For example, Robotic-assisted Surgery such as the da Vinci Surgical System is commonly used.

Other areas such as the removal of the prostate gland for the treatment of prostate cancer, hysterectomy for the removal of the uterus, colorectal surgery involving the colon and rectum, removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy), and hernia repair. Robotic systems are used in orthopaedic surgeries to improve precision and accuracy, as well as in spinal procedures, such as spinal fusion or minimally invasive surgeries. Robotic guidance can be used for precise localization and navigation in neurosurgical procedures, including brain tumour removal or deep brain stimulation. Other surgeries include Bariatric Surgery, Thoracic Surgery, and Urological Surgery.

It’s important to note that the application of robotic equipment may vary between hospitals and surgical teams, and the specific procedures performed using robotic technology can expand as advancements continue in the field of robotic surgery.

Overall, AI in medicine complements healthcare professionals by providing additional insights and assistance. However, it’s crucial to emphasize that human expertise and decision-making remain vital, as AI is designed to augment rather than replace medical professionals in providing optimal patient care.

Many of us may find ourselves watching a screen with soothing voices tailored to our moods to compensate for the absence of GPs, making it difficult to access face-to-face appointments. Who knows, a well-designed robotic nurse with a soothing voice accompanied by our preferred music may appear to gather our vital medical details and prescribe the appropriate dosage.

And then, robotic vehicles with four wheels could deliver medicine from the pharmacists to our doorsteps, similar to the delivery of groceries from a local store.

Many individuals with severe disabilities or those living alone can be monitored and supported in various ways using AI technology, which holds significant promise in these areas. However, it’s important to note that AI should always complement human expertise rather than entirely replace it.

The adoption of technological advances in clinical management depends on the resources available to the NHS and the development of skills among clinicians and other associated staff. The new generation is becoming more accustomed to technology as their lives revolve around laptops, tablets, and mobile devices. However, we must also empower the older generation and those facing social and economic disadvantages to ensure they are not left behind. It is essential to urge those responsible for planning well-being strategies for the community to make a serious effort to provide adequate resources and support the “third sector,” as well as charities, to compensate for the lack of accessibility to education and necessary skills.

Society should never hinder innovation and research in science and technology related to our health or any aspects of the environment. The evolution of science is a natural phenomenon that progresses towards greater sophistication. It is in our human nature to explore more and more in order to gain benefits. The key is to ensure that we find ways to understand its intricate functioning and structures to manage and utilize them to our advantage.


Buddhdev Pandya MBE is founder and chief editor of a medical journal, Swasthya for healthcare professionals. He served as Director of British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, British International Doctors Association and British Indian Psychiatrists Association 


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