AI teaches physicians to be more empathetic

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Hospitals are now adopting artificial intelligence tools to teach physicians and staff to be more empathetic toward patients and families, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Some are incorporating virtual reality simulations into medical training programs, placing caregivers in the role of patients. Other AI tools assist physicians interacting with virtual patients.

The goal is to help healthcare employees be more empathetic and improve difficult conversations with terminally ill patients.

"If healthcare workers can virtually stand in the shoes of patients as they interact with doctors, nurses and their families, they have a tremendous opportunity to improve the care they deliver," Daryl Cady, CEO of Hospice of Southern Maine, told the WSJ.

At Hospice of Southern Maine, physicians are being trained with a VR module from Embodied Labs. Through the VR simulator, physicians get experience being the patient who has a terminal disease, Alzheimer's or hearing and vision loss.

Physicians can move just as the patient would and get a complete sense of how a family and caregivers may act in different situations. The VR tool also allows the physician to more easily experience how a patient may feel.

"The goal is to help medical students, clinicians and the community better understand the role of hospice care in the end of life," Ms. Cady said to WSJ. "I was surprised at the emotions I experience doing the module."

Children's Community Pediatrics in Pittsburgh is using another form of AI to allow physicians to train on digital patients. Digital training simulation firm Kognito shows physicians and staff to identify substance abuse in teenagers and the appropriate conversations to have.

A 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association found the benefits of adopting VR simulators. In the study, 277 physicians and nurses used a Kognito simulation to practice screening for substance abuse and mental health disorders.

After three months, there was a 38 percent increase in at-risk patients identified and a 60 percent increase in patients screened, the WSJ reports. Additionally, there was a 44 percent increase in patients working with providers to determine treatment plans.

"Instead of having to pre-script all the possible questions and answers, AI allows the virtual human to dynamically generate a response as users speak with them," Ron Goldman, CEO and co-founder of Kognito told the WSJ.

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