The NHS, a hot bed for AI health innovation

Much is talked about health care distribution channels such as payers here in the US. Yet just across the atlantic, there is a payer that is just as important especially when it comes to testing new AI ideas – the UK National Health Service (NHS).

According to the Guardian, the NHS was born in 1948. On that day, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, opticians, dentists and hospitals came together for the first time as one giant UK-wide organization.

That UK wide organization has health data records for an estimated 66 million people and it’s all standardised data – not fragmented, no interoperability issues and it’s longitudinal – going back decades. As a single payer, every one’s record is linked to a unique identifier across practices, hospitals and providers for each visit, drug prescribed, procedures and clinical notes.

This makes the data so useful to large technology companies for AI inventions especially those that are focused on predicting disease.

Here is a list of tech companies working with the NHS.

Alphabet’s DeepMind is the first to develop a product based on NHS data. In 2016 it launched a phone app, Streams, that now have been proven to detect early signs of kidney failure in patients. The app continually pulls together medical information and sends alerts to doctors if the results suggest a patient could develop acute kidney injury.

Ama­zon’s voice as­sistant Alexa will pro­vide users in the UK with med­ical in­for­ma­tion about their symptoms. Un­der the NHS part­ner­ship, which started in June this year, Alexa will au­to­mat­i­cally search medical information web­sites for rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion when probed about com­mon ill­nesses.

Babylon Health, a UK company was recently in the news for raising $550M, on a $2B valuation, one of the largest single raise ever for a digital health company.

That raise happened off progress made on NHS data. The company originally built an AI chatbot that checks symptoms of NHS patients and then refers serious issues to a doctor. To meet the demand of the chatbot, it found a workaround creating it’s own doctors practice called GP at Hand, paid for by the NHS, which offers telemedicine among other services.

There are other US technology companies exploring work with the NHS even with the challenges of the politics around privatization and issues of patient consent.

The organization which spends approximately $150B a year is so valuable to the US that it may be on the negotiable table for a US-UK trade deal after Brexit.