AI in Medicine

How Do Physicians Feel About A.I. in Medicine?

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The legendary laborer John Henry competed against a steam drill during the construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway tunnel in the late 19th century to see if he could work better and faster.

Henry, a proud symbol of human strength and ability, managed to outperform the drill–and yet he died trying, thus demonstrating the futility of fighting progress when it comes to the struggle between human labor and technology.

Now, in late 2023, we see a similar dynamic playing out as workers face off against automation in the form of artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Its use in healthcare continues to be a subject of intense discussion. In this article, we explore what physicians think about AI.

Perspectives on A.I. are based on factors such as age

Physicians’ views on artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare reflect a spectrum of concerns, optimism, and challenges. A recent Medscape survey revealed that:

  • Nearly 2/3 of physicians (around 65%), harbor concerns about the influence of AI on diagnosis and treatment decisions
  • At the same time, 42% expressed enthusiasm about AI in the workplace, underlining a nuanced perspective within the medical community

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb suggested in a July op-ed that the question is not if AI will replace aspects of doctors’ roles, but when.

Anticipation about AI among physicians has intensified. According to the Medscape survey:

  • Approximately 36% of physicians expressed little to no worry about AI’s impact on diagnosis and treatment decisions
  • In highlighting a generational divide, 35% of doctors under 35 showed less enthusiasm about AI’s future in the workplace compared to 47% of those aged 45 to 54

The survey, conducted July 12-Aug. 11, 2023, encompassed 1,043 respondents across 29 specialties. It introduced a nuanced understanding of how various demographics perceive the role of AI in healthcare.

AI could alleviate physician burnout

As we’ve seen in the news frequently, physician burnout has reached unprecedented levels,  and administrative burdens are a significant contributor. A 2022 Physician Sentiment Survey by athenahealth revealed that:

  • 2/3 of physicians feel overwhelmed by record-keeping requirements
  • 68% are frustrated by limited patient interaction

AI’s potential in mitigating healthcare burnout could be significant, with its capacity to curate, decipher, and contextualize the vast digital data in, for example, a patients’ electronic health records (EHR).

By automating complex processes, AI can alleviate repetitive administrative tasks that contribute to burnout. The potential of generative AI, which combines ambient voice technology and AI, can ease documentation burdens and enhance human touch in interactions.

Hurdles of AI include reservations by patients

The widespread adoption of AI in healthcare faces a significant hurdle: patient mistrust. A survey conducted by Carta Healthcare indicates that:

  • Fully 75% of patients do not trust the use of AI in healthcare
  • Nearly 80% are unaware of their doctor’s utilization of the technology
  • Despite this skepticism, the reality is that 100% of healthcare providers have been using AI for some time

Addressing this trust gap will require an effort to educate the public about the benefits of AI. Carta Healthcare CEO Matt Hollingsworth emphasizes the need for patients to understand that AI serves as an assistive tool, not a replacement for human interpretation and decisions.

The survey indicates that patient comfort levels with AI increase when technology is used to aid diagnostic accuracy. And, transparency from healthcare providers about AI usage fosters greater trust.

AI is a mixed bag: a source of concern and a beacon of hope

As we approach 2024, physicians are recognizing the dual nature of AI’s impact on healthcare — as a source of concern for some and as a beacon of hope for others.

Bridging the gap between physician sentiment, patient education, and responsible AI integration is paramount to realizing the potential of this transformative technology in fostering a more efficient, compassionate, and patient-centric healthcare landscape.

As Dr. Eric Topol aptly states, “It is clear to me that AI will never replace physicians – but physicians who use AI will replace physicians who don’t.” Wise words, to be sure.

Written by Warren Goldie

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