For our thought leadership feature series, we’re speaking to a range of experts on different health tech topics. In this edition, we chat to Ben Court, head of AI and analytics at Civica.
Ben explained how Civica works across the global public sector, including healthcare, education and local government. He began his career in healthcare, working as a senior information analyst in surgical services for Derby Hospitals for five years before joining Civica, firstly as a software consultant and then a product manager.
Recognising that the skills required to develop AI as a software solution are hard to come by, Ben chose to complete a masters in big data analytics and data science. He has since worked to build an AI and analytics function centrally at Civica, to support the company’s technologies across the public sector.
Ben pointed out a question that often comes up: why has AI become such a thing in recent times?
“The maths and statistics we use in AI today are the same that we have used since its inception” he said. “The change lies in computing power. We have the ability to process much larger volumes much more quickly.” For example, we’ve used Civica’s Aurum – an AI engine capable of identifying system variation in clinical data – to complete 250,000 tests in an hour.
“It’s about volume and velocity,” said Ben. “We can apply these analytical techniques at greater speed and scale.”
Key opportunities for advancing data use and AI
Ben noted that there is often talk about developing a central, clinical AI solution that “can solve everything.” In reality, he said, “the key opportunity is quite different. It’s about building lots of very small solutions that can complete high volume tasks, and allow us to take those tasks away from human intelligence.
“That’s the role AI takes in our everyday lives. We are doing this today in our electronic document management solution where research shows that a clinician will spend 15 percent of their clinical time going through a number of documents. We can summarise those documents using AI language models, so they look at one single page that shows all the pertinent material”. This will increase clinical capacity and make a significant saving across an ICS.
Ben pointed out some of the main challenges facing the sector at present which are flagged as short-term priorities: the problems around staffing and resourcing, particularly with availability of specialist staff, and also waitlist management. “Interestingly, none of these pain points are particularly clinical,” Ben commented. “It’s more of an efficiency drive across the board.”
Civica’s solutions in practice
Civica’s Aurum focuses on how we can identify variations in healthcare delivery. “We take a procedure type and we compare all of the clinicians who do that particular procedure at the cost level. We’re looking for anyone who is routinely doing something different. Are they using more expensive drugs, are they spending longer in theatre? Are they using particular types of clinical apparatus? The idea is we bring these clinicians together and show them where their colleagues are achieving something at a lower cost, a shorter length of stay, or with better outcomes, disseminating best practices.”
“It can scale up further, too; with the move to integrated care systems, it’s about enriching processes using high volume AI that delivers good value and frees up human intelligence to focus elsewhere.”
Challenges and how to tackle them
The first challenge Ben raised was that of data sharing. “I’d say this is solving itself, to some extent,” he said. “Traditionally, work in healthcare sectors has been very siloed. But now that we’ve got ICSs, that challenge hasn’t gone away, but it has been minimised. ICSs give us one legal body that can bring that data together and give us a full picture of our population and our patient pathways.
Interoperability is another challenge within data sharing, he noted, particularly between NHS organisations and local authority organisations when they are passing individuals between them. Ben pointed out that these systems were not bought and governed to work together, and so there needs to be a process to bring them together in order to view the full holistic story.
Civica’s Master Data Management (MDM) software, MultiVue, tackles this challenge in the healthcare space. “This is designed to create a patient-centric record, to look at drawing all these systems together and create a single thread through all of them,” Ben said. “NHS data doesn’t always travel well through organisations and into social care, so you do need to plug in some additional technology into the data space to bring it all together.”
When you start with the problem, Ben noted, you know what the problem solved looks like. He emphasised the need to ask what success looks like to the system, to the customer, to the patient. “At that point, you can apply a solution and see if the result matches your vision of what good looks like. Grounding AI in the real world and working with customers to define the problem and the vision for success is critical.”
What’s exciting about the future?
Population health is a huge area of interest. “We’ve always seen the potential here, but dealing with the volume of data has always felt a little insurmountable. Today, with the tech we have, we are really moving in a direction where we can see healthcare becoming one joined-up system.”
The power of data to unlock insights from other areas such as education or local authorities is also exciting, he added. “Data and AI can provide us with the whole picture and show it to us in a way that we can understand. Civica is really well-placed for this, because we work across the public sector; we’re seeing how healthcare can be brought together with other elements. The citizen isn’t just a patient, they have needs outside of their healthcare needs – educational, financial, housing and so on. I think that the ability to bring all this information together and focus on the citizen and their needs holistically will benefit some people dramatically. Rather than working in isolation, it’s a future where one intervention could fix five or six issues.”
Many thanks to Ben for taking the time to share his thoughts.