Is faith in AI for healthcare turning the corner?
Artificial intelligence has been the dominant theme across healthcare headlines throughout 2023, especially as generative AI tools like Chat-GPT have started to pick up steam. More and more organizations are adopting AI tools to help solve administrative and clinical problems, even as new guardrails start to form at both the national and international levels to steer the industry’s development in the right direction.
This explosion of interest appears to be leading to a relatively quick turnaround in patient and provider opinions about the utility and trustworthiness of AI for healthcare.
While the first half of the year saw a number of surveys expressing uncertainty around the role of AI in healthcare decision-making, a new batch of polls indicates that providers are going all-in on AI – and patients are showing more enthusiasm than ever before.
A cautious start to 2023 for consumers and clinicians
Just a few short months ago, both patients and providers were deeply hesitant to start integrating AI into the care process. In March, Pew Research released a report that found six out of 10 US patients would feel “uncomfortable” with AI being used as part of their healthcare decision-making. More than half worried about technology’s impact on the patient-provider relationship, and 37% were concerned about privacy and security.
Just 30% thought artificial intelligence could improve care quality for people similar to themselves, and 38% didn’t believe AI would make much of a difference at all.
The one bright spot was in health equity: almost 40% thought AI could reduce healthcare biases, and nearly half agreed that AI will be important for addressing inequities across the care continuum.
In July, providers took an equally dim view of the burgeoning AI ecosystem, according to a separate poll from GE Healthcare.
Only 26% of US-based providers believed that AI could be trusted in its current form, and a similar number believed that these algorithmic tools are ready for widespread deployment. Providers pointed out issues with data interoperability, the usability of AI tools, and lack of adequate training that could hamper the usefulness of AI in their everyday workflows.
Changing perspectives on the AI environment?
Attitudes seem like they’re changing, however, in more recent surveys. In November, Medtronic and Morning Consult found that patient views may have flip-flopped: now, 6 in 10 feel that AI in healthcare is poised to improve diagnosis and treatment of health conditions, and just over half believe that AI will lead to “major advancements and breakthroughs” in the upcoming year.
Healthcare consumers are also somewhat more likely to believe in the power of AI for improving health equity, with 56% saying that AI can be beneficial for improving access to care.
Data from consulting and talent firm Healthcare IT Leaders adds to the notion that AI is about to take off in a big way. More than 80% of surveyed healthcare organizations have some sort of AI program in place, with approximately three-quarters planning to implement at least one project in the next year or two. The vast majority are focusing their efforts on EHR and revenue cycle projects (47% and 42% respectively).
Sixty percent anticipate ramping up their spending from current levels, and a quarter of surveyed organizations are planning to hike spending by at least 25%, if not more.
Fortunately, 86% of organizations stated that clinicians and end-users play an extensive role in the development and deployment of AI solutions, indicating that implementation isn’t happening in a leadership-driven silo.
Lingering caveats and concerns in AI implementation
Even though optimism appears on the rise, there are some potential stumbling blocks to address before the industry can realize the vision of a safe, secure, and equitable AI-driven healthcare experience.
Consumers largely feel that AI is prone to make mistakes, the Medtronic survey reveals. More than 80% think that the potential for errors is one of the biggest barriers to adoption, and a similar number feel that there isn’t yet enough evidence that AI truly improves health outcomes.
In addition, patients still aren’t ready to prioritize AI as part of their own care, despite their believe that a rising AI tide will raise all ships. Only a third of patients would prefer to work with a physician who uses AI, and even fewer (20%) would want their doctor to use AI extensively. They are most likely to be accepting of AI as a tool for assisting with reading imaging tests, interpreting lab results, and detecting cancer
Providers are also facing obstacles on the path to broader AI adoption, the Healthcare IT Leaders survey notes. About a third of respondents said that budget constraints and uncertain ROI may influence adoption, and close to 30% have concerns about data privacy and security.
Fewer were worried about ethical and bias issues (18%) and a mere 10% pointed to staff resistance to change as a reason AI adoption might be delayed. Fifty-six percent were “somewhat confident” that AI is accurate and reliable enough to deploy for high-value use cases, and a further 10% were “very confident” in their AI tools.
Overall, the surveys point to growing belief that AI going to make a major difference in healthcare sooner rather than later. While there are still challenges to address, both consumers and healthcare organizations seem to be more or less on the same page with their confidence levels and goals for AI implementation.
As artificial intelligence continues to evolve at a breakneck rate and starts to be used in real-world practice more broadly, it will be interesting to see if provider and patient attitudes keep up the positive pace – or if inevitable hiccups in the industry-wide adoption process will take the shine off the optimism.
Jennifer Bresnick is a journalist and freelance content creator with a decade of experience in the health IT industry. Her work has focused on leveraging innovative technology tools to create value, improve health equity, and achieve the promises of the learning health system. She can be reached at email@example.com.