Hot topics – The future of leadership and collaboration

Key themes and emerging challenges: What the leading voices are saying

The adoption of AI in clinical settings demands significant change – across processes, ways of working and crucially, the mindset of healthcare teams. Strong leadership is required to champion AI and create positive associations with the move to digital technologies. But who are these changemakers, and how will they enthuse their teams and educate them about the benefits of AI?

Cultivating a positive attitude towards AI

Expert participants across the seven European Round Table Meetings highlighted that reluctance about AI among the healthcare workforce could be attributed to: hesitancy to change existing working practices, a lack of digital skills and expertise, or having the time to upskill. Further, there can be a misconception that AI will replace healthcare professionals (HCPs) when in fact, AI will play a supportive role. To care for our ageing population, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 18 million healthcare workers will be needed across Europe by 2030 and the current workforce will not meet current or projected future demand.1 Automation and AI could help to alleviate some workforce shortages by taking over the repetitive administrative tasks which can take up to 70% of HCPs’ time.1

Educating the existing leadership about the benefits of AI, and enabling them to become well-versed in both digital skills and biomedical and data science, will support them to effectively communicate these benefits to their clinical staff. In doing so, these leaders become advocates that will catalyse change. Round Table participants highlighted that incentives may be helpful and senior clinicians must be able to obtain support from their employers to lead or participate in AI-related projects.

Key insights – Spain

Clinical staff are already time-pressured and this leaves little room to dedicate time to digital innovation. A formal framework (dedicated, paid time to learn and innovate) would not only accelerate the introduction of AI but would also lead to the emergence of individual leadership

In this era of change, there may no longer be a place for hyper-specialisation. Collaboration and multidisciplinary working are already an everyday reality and this must continue to prevail to support innovation

A collaborative and multidisciplinary approach

Whilst supporting existing leadership teams is important, new and multi-disciplinary leadership – or rising stars – is key to driving the adoption of new technologies. Empowering stakeholders such as nurses, to share their ideas about AI and supporting two-way communication between staff and clinical leaders is crucial.

We always interact with consultants [when discussing how to increase the accessibility and uptake of AI solutions in hospitals]. But recently, we’ve been lucky enough to work closely with research nurses. Nurses have loads of really good ideas, but there isn’t always a clear pathway to put these forward.

Dr Pepijn van de Ven, Senior Lecturer in Electronic and Computer Engineering, University of Limerick

Key insights – Ireland

Round Table Meeting participants discussed the importance of creating an ideas-led entrepreneurial environment across teams to share their ideas about the adoption of AI

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in more remote monitoring of patients, and one effect of this has been that nurses are often the ones enthusiastically driving the development of apps as they are the ones working most closely with patients

Further, the University of Limerick has had great success with an initiative driven by research nurses to put forward their ideas for technology-assisted projects via a platform accessible through a mobile phone app

Working alongside professionals who have traditionally sat outside healthcare settings will also be required. This collaborative approach may need investment in the introduction of new roles and structures. For example, hiring chief information officers in every hospital with a dedicated remit to drive transformation, or building teams which include experienced data scientists. Indeed, the immersion of innovators in a clinical setting would not only be advantageous to upskilling clinical teams, but also highly valuable for the progression of innovative AI products and services.

Across the Round Table Meetings, one further theme was clear – hospitals and other clinical settings cannot lead the integration of AI across healthcare alone. Commitment from governments and the EU can help to accelerate change, for example, by offering funding streams or incentives for AI projects, and standardising how data is collected and coded so it can be widely and easily used. Close relationships between clinicians, industry and policymakers are also required – not only nationally but across borders – to share knowledge, build expertise, identify areas for collaboration and generate ideas for AI solutions that will drive healthcare transformation.

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1 EIT Health and McKinsey & Company. Transforming healthcare with AI – The impact on the workforce and organisations. March 2020.