The Impact of AI on Healthcare

Peter C. Raich, MD, FACP
Chief Medical Officer, Prosocial Applications, Inc.
Professor Emeritus, U. of Colorado

Revised December 26, 2023

Over the past several months there has been a great outpouring of interest and reporting on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its impact on our current and future lives. Words like ChatGPT, AI art and artificial neural networks have caught our attention. AI or machine intelligence is achieved by computers searching through massive amounts of data, from which, through algorithms and repetition, they can learn to recognize patterns in the data, leading to an almost instantaneous completion of a related task.

We’ve already lived with AI applications for a good number of decades. These include a chess-playing computer system that was able to beat the world chess champion in 1997, widespread use of AI assistants such as Siri and Alexa, targeting of advertisements online, autonomous vehicles such cars and drones, language translation, facial recognition, robotic surgery and many more.

There is little question that AI will rapidly challenge the way the healthcare industry works: from searching a person’s medical records for early signs of disease, to increasing the accuracy of cancer screening, to AI medical assistants, to more rapid review and denials of insurance claims, AI’s impact on our healthcare system will come hard and fast. As a result, the patient-doctor relationship will be changed forever, not always for the better.

A 2023 Pew Research Center survey of public view on AI found that 60% of Americans would be uncomfortable if doctors relied on AI in managing their healthcare. Seventy-five percent felt that AI technology is being adopted too fast. Many raised concerns about changes in personal relationships and about health record security. A majority of participants expressed their belief that utilizing AI in healthcare will reduce medical mistakes and will lead to treating minority patients more fairly. They felt that AI could have a positive role in screening for skin cancer, but that it would have a negative impact on monitoring pain medication. Seventy-nine percent were against the use of chatbots in mental health care.

Another 2023 study of patients’ attitudes toward AI1 found that preference for a human clinician or an AI driven diagnostic treatment plan was evenly split in 2,472 broadly diverse participants. However, when their providers actively supported the use of the AI developed tool, participants were more likely to accept it. This points to the importance of physician interaction, validation and assurance of accuracy in driving the acceptance of AI supported healthcare.

As AI methodology and applications move into the healthcare sector, we’re facing a rapidly expanding set of new challenges with data privacy and security. Since AI systems need to be trained on massive datasets, the secure and de-identified exchange of such datasets between healthcare and proprietary AI technology presents a major challenge. Current regulations have not kept up with this rapidly changing field and need to be updated in order for AI to have a positive place in healthcare.

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