Key points

  • This report explores the opportunities for automation and AI in health care and the challenges of deploying them in practice. It draws on learning from the Health Foundation’s programmes and research – including a recent study by the University of Oxford on the potential of automation in primary care – as well as a range of other literature.
  • Informed by YouGov online surveys of more than 4,000 UK adults and more than 1,000 NHS staff, the report finds that while automation and AI hold huge potential for improving care and supporting the NHS to increase its productivity, in developing and deploying them we must be careful not to squeeze out the human dimension of health care, and must support the health and care workforce to adapt to and shape technological change.
  • Our surveys found public and NHS staff opinion divided on whether automation and AI in health care are a good or bad thing. Government and NHS leaders must therefore engage with the public and NHS workforce to raise awareness of and build confidence in technology-enabled care.
  • Health care is a service that is fundamentally co-produced between patients and clinicians, making the human, relational dimension critically important to the quality of care. Given the nature of work in health care is different to many other industries, the impact of these technologies on work will also tend to be different. In many cases, automation and AI technologies will be deployed to support rather than replace workers, potentially improving the quality of work rather than threatening it.
  • The benefits of a new technology don’t come from how it performs in isolation, but from fitting it successfully into a live health care setting and redesigning ways of working for maximum gain. Teams and organisations will need to consider the human infrastructure and processes needed to accompany the technology, and policymakers and system leaders will need to fund ‘the change’ – not just ‘the tech’.

This report offers in-depth analysis into the challenges and potential presented by automation and AI in health care and highlights wider implications for the future, setting out considerations for policymakers and the NHS. As well as describing some of the most promising areas of application of automation and AI to health care, the report also explores the challenges, constraints and practical considerations for making the most of automation and AI. The report goes beyond simply considering their potential, to engaging with what it will take to realise the long-term benefits for patients, the public and NHS staff.

Find out more

To hear more about our work focused on improving health care, go to our preference centre, where you can sign up to receive updates via email on topics such as analytics and data, workforce and person-centred care.

Infographic

How do we get the best out of automation and AI in health care?

Infographic

Automation and AI present many opportunities for improving care and supporting the NHS to increase...

Cite this publication

Hardie T, Horton T, Willis M, Warburton W. Switched on: How do we get the best out of automation and AI in health care? The Health Foundation; 2021 (https://doi.org/10.37829/HF-2021-I03)

Further reading

Chart

Patients and machines: does technology help or hinder empathy and person-centred care?

Chart

Tim Horton and Tom Hardie explore empathy and person-centredness in the context of technology and AI...

Long read

Securing a positive health care technology legacy from COVID-19

About 21 mins to read

Long read

During the pandemic, the NHS has rolled out technologies at impressive speed. But what will need...

You might also like...

Blog

The full health and care data strategy must address its shortcomings

Blog

Building trust, addressing health inequalities and improving social care data are critical if the...

Press release

Model that predicts patient risk from COVID-19 wins Florence Nightingale Award for Excellence in Healthcare Data Analytics

Press release

Health Foundation announcement of the winner of the 2021 Florence Nightingale Award for Excellence...

Event

Webinar: Tech and NHS recovery – what you should know

Event

How can technological innovation help speed the recovery of the NHS and sustain high quality care in...

Kjell-bubble-diagramArtboard 101 copy

Get social

How can the government do things differently to #BuildBackBetter? @KMerrifieldTHF and @GNightingaleTHF take a look… https://t.co/IlXkbxJ5U1

Follow us on Twitter
Kjell-bubble-diagramArtboard 101

Work with us

We look for talented and passionate individuals as everyone at the Health Foundation has an important role to play.

View current vacancies
Artboard 101 copy 2

The Q community

Q is an initiative connecting people with improvement expertise across the UK.

Find out more