Artificial Intelligence in Medicine (baby steps are necessary!)

After reading about all the exciting possibilities that AI has to offer medicine, it was hard not to be carried away with it all and believe this is happening now but a recent visit to Tallaght hospital introduced me to the reality of healthcare in Ireland, paper and lots of it!! The use of information systems has become the norm in workplaces but Tallaght hospital and I presume all hospitals in Ireland was like stepping back in time, nothing much has changed in the last 10 years, lots of paper files and staff still using pagers!  In fairness to the HSE, when your budget has been cut by €2.7bn due to the recession, O’Cionnaith (2014), it’s understandable that the focus is on survival and keeping front line services going, rather than on investment.

I really struggled to see how an artificial intelligence system would fit into such an organisation so was not surprised when I read about how goggle’s AI system ‘Deepmind’ is being used in the NHS, Bosley and Lewis (2016). The article explains that ‘Deepminds’ artificial intelligence and machine learning is not being used at all and the introductory scheme in the NHS is a ‘run of the mill’ smartphone app that alerts consultants to blood tests with dangerous levels of creatinine.  This is basic stuff that I would even program a system to do!!

So why can’t ‘Deepmind’ be used to its full potential?  The founder of Deepmind, Demis Hassabis gives a good reason, Byford (2016), “Well, NHS software as I understand it is pretty terrible, so I think the first step is trying to bring that into the 21st century.  They’re not mobile, they’re not all the things we take for granted as consumers today.” This statement definitely applies to the HSE as well, so huge investment will be needed to modernise healthcare systems before artificial systems like ’Deepmind’ can  be deployed and its promise fully  exploited for patients benefit.

The problem with ‘Deepminds’ and any other artificial intelligence system use in the NHS and HSE is you have to have electronic records to begin with!!  Who is going to pay for these systems to introduce electronic records?  At the moment google are giving the use of ‘Deepmind’ for free to the NHS but I’m not comfortable with a company like google gaining access to such personal information.

I would like to see a commitment from governments to increase budgets for our national healthcare organisations giving them the ability to upgrade systems and introduce electronic records, then and only then, will it be possible to introduce artificial intelligence which can improve healthcare for both staff and patients. Baby steps are needed and healthcare will need to learn to walk before it can run!!



Ó Cionnaith, F. (2014) “HSE made cuts of €2.7bn during recession” Irish Examiner Available at: [Accessed 27th March 2016]

Boseley, S & lewis, P (2016) “Smart care: how Google DeepMind is working with NHS hospitals” The guardian 24th February 2016 Available at: [Accessed 27th March 2016]

Byford, s (2016) “DeepMind founder Demis Hassabis on how AI will shape the future” The Verge 10th March 2016 Available at: [Accessed 27th March 2016]


2 thoughts on “Artificial Intelligence in Medicine (baby steps are necessary!)

  1. Great article Deirdre and so true. We all get excited learning of the great possibilities AI could bring but the reality of implementing these is another story. How could we even contemplate the HSE using AI when they have so many legacy applications and processes?
    I have experienced this first hand accompanying my parents to hospital appointments. Their local hospital is Castlebar (30 miles away) but the centre of “excellence” is Galway (100 miles away). They frequently have had to attend clinic’s in both, this necessitates moving a paper file between both locations!
    We have to frequently intervene in this process and check in advance to ensure the file is in the right location prior to an appointment. Failure to do this could mean repeated tests as the consultant doesn’t even know what tests have been done as he doesn’t have the file. This could mean another trip to Galway which is totally unnecessary and long delays for a diagnosis, delaying the start of a treatment which could be critical to the health of a patient.


  2. I am so shocked to know such big hospitals in Ireland and Galway still keep records in paper.
    This thing happens in Government offices as well. As a non-EU citizen, I have to renew my re-entry visa in immigration office every year. However they even do not have an online booking system, which result in long queue at the outside of immigration office building in the early morning. Before Christmas, some people joined the queue in the middle night to make sure they can get the tickets. At this point, I will not expect Ireland government can use AI technology. Please use computer and Internet !


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