Elsevier Health recently published a “Clinician of the future” report, based on the results of an online survey which gathered the perspectives of more than 2600 clinicians from 116 countries. They expressed their opinions on the future of healthcare, the opportunities and challenges they are facing in their roles.
Perspectives on the staff shortage
One of the main concerns raised is the workforce deficiency that exists already in many parts of the world and is expected to increase sharply in the future. Among the survey participants, the average working week was 49 hours. The majority declared that they like what they do, but 37% are considering leaving their jobs in the next 2-3 years and 13% are thinking about leaving healthcare. Half of the participants placed training in second place on the top of their priorities, but 67% of the clinicians believe their newly trained colleagues lack hands-on training and experience. Digital technology, including artificial intelligence (AI) represents a potential solution for alleviating these challenges.
Perception on AI use in healthcare
Half of the participants (51%) found it desirable to use AI in the process of taking clinical decisions, and the same proportion (50%) considered AI suitable for training doctors or nurses. Almost three quarters (73%) answered that it would be desirable for doctors to be “digital experts”.
According to the survey, clinicians tend to be positive about using technology in a way that is supporting them as experts, and for routine tasks. AI is perceived in most cases as an assistant in decision making. The current results are in line with those published in a previous report. In 2022, more than half (56%) of the clinicians predicted that they would be using AI based tools in the next decade. Currently, 11% of the participants declared that they use generative AI tools like chat GPT or Bard to assist them in making clinical decisions. Participants in the survey also expressed their opinions through open-ended questions. For example, the report cited one participant who stated that “Technologies like AI and big data used as auxiliary tools will reduce the chance of misdiagnosis and errors.”
However, there are concerns from both healthcare professionals and patients regarding a hypothetical situation in which AI would be paired as the clinical expert in partnership with a non-expert. In a UK survey on over 1000 patients, 41% answered that they would trust doctors and nurses to make better decisions, but what would most increase their confidence about their care was the possibility to speak to a doctor or nurse if they did not trust the results.
The amount of information in the medical field constantly grows, and clinicians cannot be expected to keep up with the details of every development. However, in order to make the best decisions for their patients and critically evaluate the AI “advice”, they need to develop new skills and use the most efficient ways to improve their knowledge. As shown in the report, many health professionals consider continuous training and education as a priority. The advantages of using AI tools in medical education would be decreased cost and increased efficiency. The use of AI in medical training had the maximum desirability percentage in China (73%), in line with the general pattern of positively appreciating AI implementation in other fields of healthcare. In the same country, a national project aims to create a single national platform to provide health information. In 2020, 5 years after its launch, the network had almost 55 million active internet healthcare users.
The advantages of using AI in healthcare will trigger new changes and large scale projects in other countries, too, like the Applied AI Healthcare challenge and the AIM-HI program in the USA. In the UK, the National Health Service is running projects like the NHS AI lab, which evaluates the advantages of AI for improving efficiency, patients’ experience, and clinicians’ daily workload.
Development of any AI based tools carries a responsibility for the companies who develop them. The increased awareness of AI in the media is driving Governments around the World to form governing bodies and/or departments who will be overseeing this industry, such as the EU AI Act. The EU Parliament acknowledges that AI can create many benefits, such as better healthcare but that AI systems should be overseen by people, rather than by automation, to prevent harmful outcomes.
Despite some challenges concerning responsible and ethical implementation, and the technology in general, new AI solutions are already empowering clinicians to provide better care for their patients while improving their own work-life balance. The future appears bright for AI in medicine.