How can Quantum Computing be Applied to Operational Healthcare?
Applied Quantum Computing (AQC) and The PSC have been working together to investigate how quantum computing techniques can be applied to a variety of commonly encountered and important operational challenges in healthcare.
This paper seeks to set out some of the possible use cases and potential impact and implications of applying quantum computing.
What is quantum computing and why is it useful?
Quantum computing is a new approach to computation that makes use of quantum physics-based techniques. Quantum computers can be helpful in solving particular types of problems, one of which is combinatorial optimisation problems. In many cases, these problems can only be solved definitively by exhaustive testing all possible solutions before you can be certain the optimal solution has been found. In other cases, heuristic methods for large problem examples are used but these suffer from drawbacks, such as there is no guarantee of finding the optimal solution and the so-called algorithms may take a long time to find a result. Indeed, as complexity increases, combinatorial problems can take classical computers years to solve – quantum computing, in contrast, provides an opportunity to solve large problem instances much more quickly.
Quantum computation is an emerging technology and quantum computers are still being developed. It is likely to take 5-15 years before they can be deployed and their benefits can be fully realised.
How can it be applied to operational healthcare?
Healthcare provision in the UK accounts for approximately 11% of UK GDP* and is the single largest area of UK Government expenditure. In providing an efficient and comprehensive healthcare system, the NHS brings together many complex procedural tasks at a large scale on an everyday basis. Nevertheless, it is well known that the NHS faces many challenges in providing the scale and quality of care expected by patients, and it is widely expected that these challenges will continue. Consequently, there is a critical need to maximise efficiency and optimise the use of current and future resources.
There are potential opportunities for improvements in many aspects of healthcare service provision. Intrinsically many of the operational processes involved in delivering these services involve a form of optimisation to ensure available service capacity and patient benefit are jointly maximised. It is widely considered that quantum computational techniques could unlock solutions to complex optimisation problems of this nature.
Here we showcase two of the most promising use cases, where proof of concept has been shown by AQC, followed by a long list of other potential uses cases where the application of quantum computers could be beneficial.
*ONS Healthcare expenditure, UK Health Accounts provisional estimates: 2022
Proof of concept use cases
Long list of other potential use cases
We considered the relative priority of the different use cases to arrive at two use cases for proof of concept testing. This involved looking at the importance and potential impact of the use cases to operational healthcare, alongside how easy they would be to implement. This is captured in the below matrix.
Consideration was also given to the quantum suitability of the use cases, ensuring that the problems were appropriately complex for quantum computing to be applicable with meaningful results, whilst also having the ability to be simplified so that a proof of concept can be demonstrated.
What are the implications for operational healthcare?
Quantum computers are expected to be able to deliver “quantum advantage” sometime in the next 5-15 years and offer many potential benefits to operational healthcare challenges as outlined in the use cases above.
There are some considerations that should be made in terms of future adoption and implementation of quantum computers in operational healthcare settings, including:
- Availability of data – many of the use cases above require data on patients, resources, and other data as inputs to the problem
- Culture/appetite for change – some use cases require changes to current models of care and working practices
- How systems, organisations, and staff can work together to maximise the benefits – larger scale problems involving multiple systems, organisations, and staff will benefit most from quantum computing
The exciting work carried out by AQC and The PSC has provided an early demonstration of the applicability of quantum techniques to operational healthcare use cases, and has shown the potential significant and far-reaching benefits that quantum computing could offer many areas of the healthcare sector. There are plans for a continuation of the work in the form of an in-depth feasibility study that applies quantum techniques to a larger number of operational healthcare use cases on the path to developing an application with great societal value.
Applied Quantum Computing and The PSC would like to acknowledge the assistance provided by Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, without which this research project would not have been possible. We would also like to acknowledge our project partners, the National Quantum Computing Centre for their contributions in shaping the project in an advisory capacity. This work was undertaken with the support of a grant from the Science and Technology Facilities Council / National Quantum Computing Centre as part of its programme to develop quantum computing and its applications in the U.K. Applied Quantum Computing would additionally like to thank IBM who, through the IBM Quantum Partner programme, have provided access to certain quantum computer processors.
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