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Behind the exam room curtain: What providers & patients really think about AI


How hope and optimism for technology can shape a more positive future for healthcare & how we can get there

doctor and AI | © alexLimbach - stock.adobe.com

© alexLimbach - stock.adobe.com

The dialogue around artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare continues to dominate the media landscape. Whether it’s considerations for integrating AI, the most valuable AI use cases both today and on the horizon, or the policy governing AI applications, the industry remains fascinated with the potential of the technology to revolutionize care. However, what’s often underemphasized in these conversations, is perspective and insights from those most impacted - patients and providers. In order for technology to shape a more positive future, the industry needs collective buy-in and education around AI's potential. Doing so requires understanding of patient and provider sentiment and deploying the technology in the most meaningful ways for the largest impact.

Reframing technology from culprit to companion

Let’s face it - provider burnout is not new, and it continues to contribute to major challenges in healthcare today. According to a recent survey of more than 1,000 physicians, more than 93% of them are feeling burned out on a regular basis and averaging 15 hours per week working in ‘pajama time’ outside their place of employment and working hours. The reality is so unsustainable that 56% of physicians reported that they have considered leaving the field or remaining in the field but no longer seeing patients. A key contributor to burnout is administrative tasks, which take away the ability for providers to practice at the top of their license and engage in what they care about most, patient care.

However, while these tasks, which are oftentimes performed within electronic health records (EHRs), can be a culprit of burnout, paradoxically, the solution lies within technology. In fact, from the same survey, physicians using EHRs reported the technology can help improve efficiencies (54%) and provide high-quality care (65%). Moreover, physicians who feel their EHR helps them reduce the time they spend on admin tasks (40%) are less likely to feel burned out (43% vs 58%) and additionally spend two hours less each week working outside their normal business hours. For technology to be seen as a helpful instead of a hindrance, physicians need to experience more advantages and fewer complexities or burdens. We must harness technology to simplify the practice of care.

Making sure the industry gets this right means using technology to wick away administrative work, increase efficiencies, and get providers back to doing what they do best - providing care to patients. Cue the opportunity for AI to make a difference. A whopping 83% of physicians are reporting that they believe AI could eventually reduce many of the problems facing healthcare, including burnout. Additionally, when forecasting the future and potential for AI in healthcare, almost twice as many physicians report seeing AI as part of the solution (39%) rather than part of the problem (21%).

In the same vein, providers are concerned (60%) that using AI in practice will result in the loss of human touch. Harnessing ‘small but mighty’ applications of AI in the near term has the potential to build trust in the technology among physicians, while allowing them to focus on high-impact patient connections and improving the quality of care they deliver.

Humans want connection in the exam room

Encounters between patients and providers in the exam room are some of the most personal relationships in an individual's life. When patients are reading headlines on how AI may replace doctors without a comprehensive understanding of the nuances of technology, there’s rightfully fear that arises. In a recent study, 43% of patients reported they didn’t know how AI was being used in their healthcare journey, and 17% reported fear that the technology would result in the loss of human touch. As with physicians, patients are concerned AI will take the human connection out of healthcare interactions and damage the relationships between patients and providers.

The silver lining is that over half (52%) of patients believe that AI can be a solution in healthcare and that the technology has the potential to improve their healthcare (42%). Further, there are clear gaps in both awareness and trust for patients, presenting an opportunity for the industry to transparently shed light on how AI can support high-quality care, further fostering trust and acceptance of technology among patients.

Listening and acting with intention

It’s easy to be caught up in the hype and excitement around the potential of AI – most recently GenAI - with the promise it holds for closing gaps in care, improving accuracy of patient diagnoses, increasing efficiencies, and the endless list of possibilities it holds. However, there’s critical value in traditional, ready-to-implement AI solutions that physicians can utilize daily to simplify healthcare and improve patient care. The priority for implementation should center around physician and patient needs and help alleviate the most pressing complexities in healthcare. Listening to sentiment among those in the exam room and acting with intention is how the industry will ultimately reduce physician burnout and enhance patient-provider experiences and relationships.

Nele Jessel, MD, is Chief Medical Officer at athenahealth

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