How AI is helping to improve patient care

There are now countless incredible examples of how artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming patient care to predict and detect disease and personalise medicine. Less frequently heralded is AI’s influence on soft factors that are just as critical in ensuring high quality patient care.

At the heart of patient care lies the patient-doctor dynamic. It’s well documented that good communication between both is essential to enable good outcomes and avoid medical errors. Conversely, breakdown in communication can lead to harm and suboptimal treatment.

Increasing shared decision making and improving health literacy are key components of the solution, but neither are straightforward fixes.

Can AI help to bridge the gap in understanding between doctors and patients?

Two recent studies involving ChatGPT and Google DeepMind suggest it can.

Google DeepMind has developed a conversational medical AI system called AMIE (Articulate Medical Intelligence Explorer) to support conversations and aide diagnosis. AMIE uses “a novel self-play based simulated environment with automated feedback mechanisms for scaling learning across diverse disease conditions, specialties, and contexts”.

In a pilot study, investigators pitted AMIE against GPs to evaluate performance across several criteria including, history-taking, diagnostic accuracy, communication skills, and empathy. The results show AMIE outperformed the GPs almost all criteria, demonstrating superior diagnostic accuracy and conversational capabilities.

Similarly, in a separate study conducted with ChatGPT, 195 randomly drawn patient questions from an online forum were answered by both doctors and the AI. The AI responses were preferred to those of the doctors and rated AI significantly higher for both quality and empathy.

Neither of these studies is suggesting that doctors be replaced by AI in communicating with patients or that AI is a replacement for shared decision making or health literacy among patients. But when 70% of people turn to the internet as their first source of health information, it is crucial to understand how AI will influence how we educate ourselves about health conditions.

AI can potentially transform patient understanding of vital information, while freeing up doctors to invest greater energy in practicing medicine, but it is not a panacea. Relationships are built by people after all.  

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