Digital health round-up: NHS to train staff in AI, GDPR worries and more

Richard Staines reviews the top digital health stories this week.

UK health chiefs are becoming aware of the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics to transform health services, and have announced a review to investigate the training needs of NHS staff to ensure they have the skills to administer these cutting-edge therapies.

The independent review into how NHS staff can use AI and robotics was announced by Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

The review, led by Dr Eric Topol, an expert in cardiology, genetics and digital medicine, will focus on identifying areas where NHS staff would benefit from training.

As well as AI and robotics, Topol will look into technologies such as genomics and digital medicine. His first visit will be to London’s Moorfields Eye Hospital to learn how its AI technology analyses eye scans, which give eye care professionals an improved understanding of eye disease.

Dr Eric Topol

This coincides with a £1 billion deal put together by the government and industry to make AI a priority. More than 50 companies have invested in the project and the government has allocated at least £300 million to help make the UK the number one nation when it comes to the technology.

Orlink aims to revolutionise op rooms with AI

And on the other side of the pond, ORLink, an AI-based support system for operating rooms has raised $1 million in a first round of funding to expand its business.

The Kentucky-based surgical workflow platform for operating rooms uses cloud-based AI technology to make operating rooms more efficient, helping hospitals cut costs and improve their bottom lines.

Operating rooms are major sources of revenue for US hospitals, and there is therefore a need to maximise case volume, while at the same time keeping costs down and ensuring services are safe and of high quality.

ORLink aims to ensure operation rooms run smoothly using a AI and sensor-based applications to track each piece of equipment entering and exiting surgical theatres.

Instead of a paper-based filing system containing surgical instructions for doctors, the information is saved in the cloud and tracked.

ORLink, which was backed by investor SA, says the system is safer and reduces liability for insurers too.

The company cited an estimate, from the Journal of Neurosurgery,  of around $1,000 of waste per case in a single service line – equating to up to $3 million of lost revenue per year.

Novo Nordisk using text messaging to improve adherence

Novo Nordisk is working with a digital health start-up to link better medication adherence to lower medicine costs for diabetes patients in the US through a text messaging pilot.

The Danish pharma company hopes to reach 10,000 patients this year through its collaboration with San Francisco-based Sempre Health, which specialises in improving both medicine costs and adherence.

It does this by working with health plans to provide Sempre members with rewards, such as lower co-payments if they fill their prescriptions on time.

Steve Albers, corporate VP of market access and public affairs for Novo Nordisk in the US, said: “This is the first of several innovations we plan to pilot to help reduce how much patients pay for their diabetes medicines at the pharmacy. And because consistently taking medicines is important for blood sugar control, we’re keen to see Sempre Health’s adherence approach support patients.”

Founded in 2015 and officially launched last July, Sempre Health has partnerships with a number of US pharmacies and a range of text messaging-based programmes based on the idea of patients sharing in the savings that being adherent to treatment generates for healthcare systems.

Pharma playing catch-up with GDPR

Less than a month remains until Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force, affecting the way pharma uses people’s data, and there are concerns about whether pharma is fully prepared.

GDPR will be enforced across Europe on 25 May. The legislation, proposed by the European Commission, is designed to strengthen and unify data protection for individuals within the European Union (EU) and will also address the export of personal data outside the EU.

GDPR overhauls the Data Protection Directive, which was put in place 20 years ago.

Pharma, like all businesses, has had two years to prepare for GDPR. Those that fail to comply will be penalised by having to pay fines – up to 4% of international turnover, or 20 million euros, whichever is greater – and may also be made to pay compensation, depending on the scale of any infringement.

Mark Thompson, global privacy lead at KPMG, said that the biggest challenge for large pharma companies will be the cultural change, particularly for those that are adapting to new business models that put data at the centre of what they do.

He told the website diginomica that pharma companies do not interact with patients, and will often not know the patients that have been prescribed with their drugs.

But the shift towards digital products will force them to become more proactive because of the demands of the legislation, he said.

Thompson said: “(Pharma is) starting to move to digital products, where they take a pill and this provides a reading to an app on your phone telling you your sugar levels, for example.

“That data has to go somewhere and primarily it goes back to the pharmaceutical. So the shift in business is changing the way that organisations that didn’t interact before are now starting to interact with very significant volumes of data. And they’re just not culturally programmed in the way to focus on that and manage that.”