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Healthcare staff need training to use AI safely, report suggests

by Beth Gault
27 May 2022

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Healthcare staff within the NHS will need ‘bespoke and specialised’ training and support in order to safely use artificial intelligence technology (AI) in their clinical practice, according to a new report.

The Health Education England (HEE) and NHS AI Lab report, called Understanding healthcare workers’ confidence in AI, suggested that AI could help the NHS to detect and manage conditions such as cancer and cardiovascular disease earlier, and help address the backlog.

It called for clinicians to be given training and education to manage potential conflicts between their own intuition or opinion on the patient’s condition and the recommendations from the AI system.

The report said: ‘The main recommendation of this report is to develop and deploy educational pathways and materials for healthcare professionals at all career points and in all roles, to equip the workforce to confidently evaluate, adopt and use AI.

‘During clinical decision making, this would enable clinicians to determine appropriate confidence in AI predictions and balance these with other sources of clinical information.’

A second report is due to be published later this year to clarify the ‘educational pathways and materials’ needed to equip the workforce to use AI, according to HEE.

‘Vital step’ in the introduction of tech

The national clinical lead for AI and digital medical workforce at HEE, Dr Hatim Abdulhussein, said that understanding clinical confidence in AI was a ‘vital step’ on the road to the introduction of these technologies.

‘Clinicians need to be assured that they can rely on these systems to perform to levels expected to make safe, ethical and effective clinical decisions in the best interests of their patients,’ he said.

Brhmie Balaram, head of AI research and ethics at NHS AI Lab, added that AI had the potential to relieve pressure on the NHS, but it could also ‘exacerbate cognitive biases’ when clinicians are making decisions.

‘It is imperative that the health and care workforce are adequately supported to safely and effectively use these technologies through training and education,’ she said.

The report added that how AI is governed and rolled out can also affect the trustworthiness of the technology, as well as the confidence in its use.

Ms Balaram said: ‘The onus isn’t only on clinicians to upskill; it’s important that the NHS can reassure the workforce that these systems can be trusted by ensuring that we have a culture that supports staff to adopt innovative technologies, as well as appropriate regulation in place.’

In 2020, a group of practices announced they would use the power of AI to help triage patients, in an effort to make accessing healthcare more efficient.