AI in Healthcare Blog

The well-publicized nursing shortage in the NHS is now a true crisis, according to a report this week from the BBC, with the number of leavers outpacing joiners and the NHS insisting action is being taken to reverse the trend. Whatever recovery plans the NHS maps out, this development is perhaps the clearest signal yet that the very nature of nursing across the UK needs to change, and AI-enabled cognitive agent technology can play a critical part in that transformation in the UK and indeed globally.

According to figures from NHS Digital provided to the BBC, more than 33,000 nurses left the profession last year, an increase of more than 20 percent from 2012-13, with approximately 3,000 more leavers than joiners. This translates into 1 in 10 nurses resigning last year, and worryingly more than half of those were under the age of 40 (many left for jobs in the private sector) and a fifth were over age 55, when nurses can begin retiring. That means younger nurses were abandoning their NHS careers at a faster rate than retirees, creating a gap in the overall demographic staff make-up that is only growing larger. The report notes that Brexit appears to have had an impact as well; before the referendum vote the number of EU nurses joining the NHS was higher than leavers, and now that trend has reversed.

While this staffing trend is not unique to the UK, and observers within and outside the NHS knew the situation was dire and predicted it would only get worse, these figures are particularly grim. The UK Royal College of Nursing for years has advocated higher wages and other items in order to address the staffing shortage. NHS regulators said that retention initiatives are underway, from masterclasses for HR officials and nursing directors, to transfer systems for nurses looking to change jobs, to new achievement recognition programs. The government is increasing the number of nurse training centers by 25% this year. Hospital trusts, meanwhile, are even partnering with local businesses to offer nurses employee discounts and rewards.

NHS officials made no mention to the BBC of using AI or digital technologies as part of its recruitment and retention efforts. The UK government, however, has indicated it has high aspirations for AI, issuing a recent report with recommendations on how the UK can become a global AI innovator. Meanwhile, we have seen healthcare officials across the UK (and other regions) growing increasingly interested in AI’s potential benefits, including the use of cognitive agents like IPsoft’s Amelia, to augment the workforce and serve as assistants to health providers and care-givers.

Given the current demands on nurses, the potential advantages from using AI-enabled cognitive agents are significant. Nurses are expected to juggle increasing patient workloads, time-consuming administrative tasks, and higher patient expectations in the quality of care, all under stressful and challenging working conditions. The modern nursing model needs to be shifted where technology takes on the more routine administrative and operational tasks, freeing up nurses for more fulfilling patient interactions and ultimately better patient experiences.

That’s where cognitive agents like Amelia can come in, acting as a virtual nurse’s assistant and collaborating with human colleagues. Amelia’s natural language, emotional intelligence and machine learning capabilities can provide an engaging, conversational interface to patients and staff, handling frequent interactions such as requests for appointments, test results or prescription requests, and allowing nurses to spend more time on patient care. Once trained, Amelia can be integrated as a fully-fledged member of any inter-disciplinary team, taking up the burden of routine, transactional and repetitive tasks that consume so much nursing time today.

Retaining current nursing talent and recruiting new candidates is a global issue, affecting countries, counties and states; the NHS is hardly alone in attempting to deal with staffing shortages in public healthcare systems. It will take years for any NHS turnaround plan to stem its current nursing crisis. For the NHS and others looking for a way forward, cognitive agents can provide new capabilities and resources, affordably and at scale, that can relieve nurses of some of their more routine job pressures, and remind those that have entered the profession what makes it so rewarding. In the end, Amelia could turn out to be the “best friend” nurses have ever had.

For more about AI in Healthcare:

‘Mind the Gap’: Using Cognitive Agents to Scale Conversations, Not Only Insights, in Healthcare – By David Champeaux

Securing the Value of AI in Healthcare: Go for a Cure, Not Just a Treatment – David King

Digital & Human Health Care – ‘And’ not ‘Or’ – David Champeaux