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Sooraj Shah

Contributing Editor

Sooraj Shah is Contributing Editor of New Statesman Tech with a focus on C-level IT leader interviews. He is also a freelance technology journalist.

Dartford & Gravesham NHS Trust aims to become digital leader by using AI

Neil Perry is the associate director of digital transformation at Dartford and Graveham NHS Trust, which serves half a million citizens across three hospitals.

His role, as his job title suggests, has been to transform the organisation into a digital NHS trust. He has been responsible for the trust’s digital strategy, ICT department, clinical systems development, clinical systems support and health records since September 2016, having joined the trust in March 2007.

The organisation reset its ICT strategy in 2017, and it was approved by the board in 2018.

“It’s quite an innovative strategy that lays out a nice pathway for us to follow over the next five years, and as we are able to communicate that well with suppliers, we’re getting a lot of traction with what we’re doing, and hopefully this will mean we can help others progress on their digital maturity,” he says.

The organisation kicked off the new strategy with a technology show, where it invited more than 20 suppliers to show off cutting-edge technologies, and enable experts to educate staff around artificial intelligence, personal health care records, data sharing and population health.

The trust then carried out interviews with its 300 clinicians, the executive board, non-executive directors and others that were in attendance, to find out what kinds of technologies they liked, what barriers they saw of using such technologies, and what it could help the trust to achieve.

The answers enabled the trust to investigate some of these technologies further, and establish a starting point for the new digital strategy.

Most recently, the trust has signed a five-year deal with Alcidion, the parent company of UK health technology provider Patientrack. Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust will deploy the tech provider’s full suite, including Alcidion’s Miya Precision platform, Smartpage healthcare messaging product, and Patientrack e-observation and early warning system, in all of its wards.

“We wanted to innovate what we were doing on the inpatient setting, which is a really complex part of the overall puzzle. There are only three trusts in the UK that have got to that digital nirvana of having paperless inpatients, and it was important to us. So the technologies Alcidion had in their complete group really excited us through the tender process,” Perry says.

“We really got under the bonnet of all the systems that were available on the market that do what we want, and we pulled them apart after several months and Alcidion came top trumps on all of it,” he says.

The trust is playing catch-up on the observation technology side, but Perry is hopeful that this new partnership will not only enable the trust to get to the same level as other trusts, but will allow them to leapfrog digital exemplars in the NHS.

Alcidion’s technologies come built in with artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP), meaning the trust can track when clinicians have seen a patient or intervened, and data can be coded in real-time, giving clinicians insights into other pathways or interventions much more swiftly; the old method meant it took 20 days to code the data after the patient had been discharged.

These additional features were not necessarily what the trust was looking for initially, but Perry believes they are extremely useful.

“For example, Alcidion has a rules engine built-in that we can use to feed data into. That wasn’t something we were expecting, it was a bonus. The fact they had the AI and NLP meant they went over and above what was expected,” he says.

This is just one part of the overall jigsaw. The company has also launched remote patient monitoring using health wearables at home, meaning patients don’t have to phone in or login to update their blood pressure or other diagnostic information. It’s all sent in real-time.

That can plug-in to the Alcidion product as well, so some patients can be monitored more frequently, and it helps to reduce the workload and pressure from wards as clinicians are able to intervene earlier.

NHS England had announced earlier this month that it was setting up a national artificial intelligence laboratory, with £250m of government funding. Perry believes Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust are already working on some of these developments. For example, the trust has a solution in place to automate chest x-rays, to know within one minute to categorise it as normal or abnormal, and if it’s abnormal it can be further categorised into the type of abnormality.

Perry believes that by taking a best-of-breed approach, the trust will become a digital leader in the years to come.