New data – announced in February by Nuance Communications – has revealed that nearly half of NHS Trusts (43%) are investing in artificial intelligence ( AI ) enabling patients to ‘self-help’ when accessing services. The Trusts are harnessing technology such as virtual assistants, speech recognition technology and chat-bots to ease the pressure on healthcare workers across their organisations.

This new insight – obtained from a Freedom of Information (FoI) request issued to 45 NHS Trusts, with 30 responding – also found that the vast majority of NHS workers are still reliant in some way on pen and paper to build patient records, with 93 per cent admitting staff still hand writing reports in their Trusts and also 93 per cent of Trusts (28) depend on traditional word processing tools for staff to type up electronic patient records (EPRs).

Research commissioned by Nuance in 2015 into the impact of clinical documentation in NHS acute care trusts revealed that clinicians spent over 50% of their work day on clinical documentation. In a more recent Nuance study of UK GP Practices over 90% reported that patient documentation was a considerable burden for their practice and that in 49% of the practices over half their patient documentation is paper versus electronic format or the use of AI.

However, by deploying technology – such as speech recognition and AI – clinicians are enabled to process clinical documents quickly and accurately, without the need to outsource transcriptions or hire additional secretarial support. Technology has proven to free up vital resources to focus on patient care and reduce the burden of administration for clinicians.

Alongside investing in technology to improve efficiencies inside the hospital, allowing staff to work flexibly can also play a key role in driving up productivity. Encouragingly, the FoI request also found that nearly half (47%) of trusts now allow staff to use mobile devices to develop patient records, saving those working in the community valuable travel time and expense.

60 per cent of the eighteen responding trusts also stated that at least some staff have access to the use of speech recognition technologies to build diagnostic reports and update patient records.

Commenting on these latest findings, Frederik Brabant, MD, Chief Medical Information Officer at Nuance, said:

Deploying technology such as AI to enable patients to self-help is an important step forward to providing the best possible care – ensuring employees can manage the more complex ailments directly with patients, while giving easy access to information for everyone.

With staff across the NHS already under enormous pressure to deliver first-class services – typically exacerbated in the winter with disease-levels peaking – access to supporting technology to ease this pressure will be key.

Yet many clinicians are still forced to spend half of their time documenting patient care. While it is encouraging that some departments within Trusts are using tools like speech recognition, with nearly all of them still reliant on pen and paper in some form, there is a significant opportunity to drive up this usage across the board.

Our goal is to bridge the gap between clinicians and technology, freeing them to focus on their patients”.