Developers of artificial intelligence based technology for healthcare should develop open source software and give it to the NHS for free if they want to make a rapid impact, one of the leaders of the NHS’s latest digital initiatives said this week.
Joseph Connor, innovation associate at NHS Digital’s Code4Health initiative, told the AI Summit in London that start-up businesses planning to sell software licences to the NHS face “a slog”.
As an alternative, he recommended adopting an open source model and identifying clinical enthusiasts to implement the software locally to build an internationally credible reference site.
“Then sell it in America on a licence, but don’t try that on us,” Connor said.
He reeled off a list of innovations under development through Code4Health, which was set up last year by NHS England and NHS Digital to nurture new ideas in digital tools and technology. The first to be implemented is a mental health voice and text communications bot with natural language processing.
“It is already having a clinical impact in London,” he said, adding that Code4Health is also exploring the concept of “local differential privacy” to manage the sensitivities of sharing data created by patients.
His message was that the NHS is receptive to AI and data based innovation but that potential suppliers should not expect quick procurement decisions.
“If you are venture capital funded you’re going to be expected to grow very quickly,” he said. “This is difficult in the NHS.
“It’s better to give away to the NHS and sell services rather than try to sell licences. But get a reference site in the UK and you’ve got an excellent platform to sell into global markets.”
He warned: “You cannot come to the NHS with unprepared answers to questions about data privacy, ethics, the value chain. Develop open solutions to give to the NHS.”
Despite the NHS’s vast potential resources of patient records, he cautioned: “Don’t come in with expectations of getting access to big data. You’re going to end up with small datasets and big processing challenges… if we get 20,000 datasets, we’re lucky.”
Earlier this month the Department of Health and Social Care published its initial code of conduct for data driven health and care technology. It stresses that: “Data driven technologies must be harnessed in a safe, evidenced and transparent way. We must engage with patients and the public on how to do this in a way that maintains trust.”
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