Market Insight

The UKRCO conference: a microcosm of healthcare in the UK?

July 23, 2018

Bhvita Jani Bhvita Jani Analyst, Healthcare Technology, IHS Markit
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On 5 July, the National Health Service (NHS) had occasion to cheer as it celebrated across the United Kingdom (UK) the 70th anniversary of its founding.

In Liverpool, meanwhile, the three-day UK Radiology and Radiation Oncology Congress (UKRCO) scientific conference was simultaneously taking place, with radiology professionals and industry watchers alike, gathering to exchange views and discuss the latest advances in radiological science and radiation oncology.  

The UKRCO could be considered the perfect platform and opportunity for medical imaging providers to showcase their transformative technologies. In turn, the artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities in the systems of the imaging providers could revolutionize the UK’s healthcare service, and become integral in the prevention of chronic disease by 2033.


And yet, there was a noticeable absence of AI throughout the conference exhibition—in contrast to the Radiology Society of North America (RSNA) convention last year, and the European Congress of Radiology (ECR) earlier this year. In those other events, AI was at the forefront of heightened buzz, with many vendors citing the integration of data through AI as the next big trend; ECR even exhibited a dedicated AI pavilion. The palpable absence of AI at UKRCO shows that even some of the most developed imaging markets in the West do not necessarily enjoy a clear head start when it comes to AI.  Despite the UK being in a developed imaging market, the absence of AI at UKRCO shows that AI integration has fallen behind the rest of Western Europe.


Product launches and exhibitor displays at UKRCO

Despite the overall lack of AI presence at UKRCO, various product launches and imaging systems that were displayed by exhibitors, highlighted patient comfort and increased usability at the forefront of innovation.


UK healthcare system needs upgrading to include AI capabilities

As the UK works to modernize and incorporate AI into the NHS, medical imaging vendors will need to be part of the vision and put forward more forcefully their AI solutions to stand out in the market, especially since AI adoption is now given budget and scope in UK healthcare provisions.

To date, AI has no tangible presence in the British healthcare system—a point driven home by the recent UKRCO in Liverpool, where the notable absence of AI was unexpected.

The question of AI is an important one, especially as the UK moves to modernize and update the NHS. Government funding for the NHS has always been an issue, which explains why the service lags in adopting new technology. However, in an announcement in May last year, Prime Minister, Theresa May, exclaimed, investment would be made available to integrate AI technology into the country’s healthcare system. Among the goals in harnessing the mighty capabilities of AI, is to reduce UK cancer mortality rates from the present period to 2030.


The NHS—and how AI can help automate radiological detection and diagnosis

The NHS, formed in 1948, is the national health service in the UK. Once embraced and admired on a global scale, the service today is under enormous financial strain. A serious concern is the growing geriatric population, which continues to drive the incidence of age-related oxidative diseases, such as cancer and chronic degenerative conditions.  Treatments for these diseases account for a substantial financial portion of NHS outlays. The NHS must also contend with Britain’s rising population, expected to increase in the next 20 years because of immigration, as well as natural population growth.

The Prime Minister’s plan is to invest £210 million ($273 million) of government funds into research and development, which would include compiling patient data and the use of AI to help in the early detection of chronic diseases.

The NHS has millions of unused and archived diagnostic images that could become one of the most powerful clinical datasets in the world if AI is used successfully. The wealth of imaging data can become part of a comprehensive programme to identify human anatomy and recognise anomalies.

For its part, the British government is aiming high, hoping that the country becomes the leader in integrating AI technology into healthcare. For medical imaging vendors in particular, there will be a fundamental need for AI embedded imaging systems to process and utilise the vast compilation of patient data.


What’s next?

There is wide agreement that more efficient ways of patient management and monitoring are required for the NHS to be as effective as it once was.

With Prime Minister May’s announcement, the NHS and the UK can finally embrace the AI-based innovations that the country’s healthcare system requires urgently to ease pressures. The proposed investment from the government will help, integrating health records fully to tackle challenges around trust and data, whilst also allowing information technology (IT) providers to access datasets to create AI algorithms.

The next 5-10 years will see considerable reformation in the NHS, with AI playing a more prominent role in diagnosis and treatment by 2030. However, if the necessary AI-incorporated imaging systems were not available because of a lack of funding, then the dedicated investment being made into the research and development of NHS patient data archives will be futile.

This is because healthcare provisions require that imaging modalities possess AI capabilities, so that they can be deployed for optimum application of available datasets, that would aid prevention and diagnosis.

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Healthcare Technology
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