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NHSBSA develops machine learning microservices for prescriptions


Mark Say Managing Editor


NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) has developed a series of microservices to support prescription processing using machine learning.

It has taken the services through a proof of concept phase and is now planning to work with Microsoft and Amazon Web Services (AWS) to make them widely available over the next six months.

Chris Suter

Chris Suter (pictured) head of digital platforms and innovation at NHSBSA, said it is also looking to further validate the findings and “take full advantage of this solution into other form types”.

The effort was launched early in 2019 as one of a series of concept projects aimed at understanding how artificial intelligence and machine learning can support the health service.

It was focused on prescriptions due the heavy cost of processing, which averages £20 each and amounts to £9.4 billion per year – approximately 10% of NHS costs.

NHSBSA has been working with Microsoft and AWS on the programme, with a focus on the reading accuracy of any solutions, looking for improvements in processes and identifying future use cases. It also placed an emphasis on complying with data governance guidance such as the Caldicott Principles and Code of Conduct for the use of AI in the NHS.

Several stages

So far it has produced microservices for a number of stages of handling prescriptions, including image reprocessing, the extraction of data through machine learning models, validation of the data captured, a data analytics module, and image processing and storage at scale.

This has helped to equip the organisation with a scanning facility, secure cloud platform and the skills to programme and train machine learning models.

Suter said this could be deployed in other processes that rely heavily on paper, including the management of pensions and student bursaries, and that it could be extended into other parts of the NHS.

“One of the key outcomes of this activity is the future potential of the solution we have created,” he said. “Not only will it solve current problems, but it also has been designed to be easily transferable to other paper based scenarios not only in the NHSBSA but potentially within the entire NHS family.”

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