The impact of AI on patient experience and patient care

The use of AI technologies in healthcare is rapidly becoming more widespread. But at this early stage of widespread AI adoption, patients have clear preferences as to which AI tools they perceive as useful and which they view with suspicion. 

During a January Becker's Hospital Review podcast sponsored by NRC Health, Paul Coyne, senior vice president and chief nurse executive at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, and Ryan Donohue, strategic advisor at NRC Health, discussed common patient perceptions about AI as well as the technology's potential to truly improve the patient experience and patient care.

Three key insights were:

  1. The majority of consumers are not clear about what AI is and how it is being used in healthcare. NRC Health recently surveyed a large group of consumers about AI in healthcare. This survey revealed about 74 percent of consumers do not have a clear sense of AI concepts and applications in healthcare. Of those respondents, 24 percent said they perceive AI as dangerous.

    Among the 26 percent who said they understand how AI works in healthcare, only about 12 percent believe AI is dangerous, while the rest expressed hope, excitement and confidence around possibilities for AI in healthcare.

  2. Much of the apprehension about AI is due to fear of technology replacing human caregivers. This fear is bidirectional, as both patients and clinicians have expressed concerns that AI-powered healthcare technology may one day replace caregivers.

    Mr. Coyne said that when leaders are considering implementing any technologies, especially AI, they should select these technologies carefully. It is important to prioritize technologies that lessen or eliminate the administrative burden — which dehumanizes the patient and caregiver experience — while preserving and augmenting the human aspects of the experience. "We need to be very closely monitoring each implementation to ensure that goal [of humanizing the experience] is met," he said.

  3. Patients see potential benefits of AI, but they are not comfortable turning over diagnoses to AI; they want diagnoses made by humans. NRC's survey showed that while consumers may be somewhat apprehensive about the thought of AI replacing humans, they believe that AI can enhance the patient experience.

    Among survey respondents, AI applications are seen as most useful in facilitating scheduling, communication with clinicians outside of the clinical encounter and billing. AI-supported diagnosis ranked last.

    "The last thing that consumers want help with by AI is diagnosis. They still very much want a physician, they want the human side of healthcare, but they want the other stuff cleared out of the way by AI," Mr. Donohue said. "Consumers are telling us, 'Take away these other parts of the journey that sap energy from me, that confuse me, that take me away from getting well — which is the point [of healthcare] in the first place."

Mr. Donohue added that even among respondents who were comfortable with AI, only 5 percent said they would want a diagnosis made by AI, while 55 percent said they would prefer a diagnosis made by a doctor and 40 percent said a diagnosis made by a doctor backed by AI is ok.

Mr. Coyne, who in a previous role developed an AI-powered sensor technology for inpatient rooms, said, "Everyone is asking to create tools that enable people working in healthcare and patients to have a more human experience, while AI does the rest. That's the future that everybody wants." 

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