Looming winter pressures eased by targeted AI initiatives

Paul McGinness, chief executive, Lenus Health, highlights the need for proactive measures to support the NHS in reducing unnecessary respiratory-related admissions

As winter approaches, it is crucial for the NHS and its stakeholders to embrace proactive measures before the inevitable surge in demand. Winters have always been challenging for the NHS due to the rise in respiratory illnesses.

Given the threats posed by new strains of COVID-19 and other respiratory infections such as flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), this winter again looks challenging for the NHS. Taking cues from Australia, which traditionally offers a preview of what the UK might face, the NHS is heading towards one of the largest flu seasons on record.

NHS England recently announced a £150m capital fund for trusts that outperform on emergency care targets. However, last winter's grim statistics, which attributed around 500 deaths per week to extended A&E waiting times, demonstrate the need for providers to take immediate action to ensure these targets are reached.

The need for proactive, preventative measures  

Although the NHS has expanded its bed capacity in the community with virtual wards, hospital bed occupancy has remained high year round. New data analysis by the Nuffield Trust highlights the significant potential to prevent admissions in chronic conditions. Deploying predictive AI to help care teams manage patients with chronic conditions can help proactively target earlier interventions, rather than just reacting to them. 

This approach isn't about spending more but targeting limited care resources at patients that need it most

For example, accessible and clinically actionable data insights surfaced by Lenus Health technology can allow pharmacists funded to work in primary care to optimise structured medication reviews, which in some cases will prevent a downstream hospital admission by a patient with decompensated disease. This approach isn't about spending more but targeting limited care resources at patients that need it most. 

But AI's capabilities aren't confined to flagging patients at high risk. AI can also help identify patients whose risk has reduced, which in turn can lead to reduced medication benefitting both the patient's well-being and generating cost savings for the NHS. In the run up to winter, we are at a tipping point where predictive AI can be deployed safely and effectively into live point of care clinical workflows. 

Addressing health inequalities

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is the second leading cause of hospital admissions in the UK with a known winter admissions spike. It also coincides with known winter admission spikes in deprived areas where there is a higher disease prevalence exacerbated by challenges in access to care. Targeting predictive AI to proactively support patients in deprived areas to better manage their COPD ahead of winter can have a significant impact in avoiding admissions as well as in reducing health inequalities.

By targeting predictive AI initiatives, service provision can shift from a reactive approach to a proactive and preventative one

This was reflected in a clinical trial at Scotland’s largest health board, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, in which more than half of the cohort using the Lenus COPD service were from deprived areas, mirroring the local disease burden. The trial resulted in a 49% reduction in admissions and 4.74 annual bed days saved per patient, showing the potential for digital tools to reach the most vulnerable segments of society and offering insight into how the impact of virtual wards spending can be maximized.

A safer winter  

While it’s true that virtual wards are helping to increase capacity, using data insights to identify suitable virtual ward candidates as well as improve support for patients in community settings. By targeting predictive AI initiatives, service provision can shift from a reactive approach to a proactive and preventative one. This strategy has two benefits: it can support financial incentives to perform and save lives. 

With another demanding winter on the horizon, predictive AI and digital tools like the Lenus COPD service are more vital than ever. By harnessing the power of AI and technology, we can enhance care delivery, prevent unnecessary admissions, and make significant strides towards reducing health inequalities. Given NHSE’s capital fund to reward trusts that excel in emergency care targets, there is no better time to adopt advanced digital solutions. Reach out to Lenus Health to learn how we can rapidly implement services, ensuring a safer winter for everyone. 

Discuss winter-proofing your respiratory service with the Lenus team at the Healthcare Excellence through Technology (HETT) Show, taking place on 26-27 September at the ExCel Centre, London (stand D54).