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Researchers enlisting AI to help docs deal with all those patient messages


Physicians edit AI-generated responses to patient inquiries

AI can help respond t patient messaging: ©Pixel_Shot - stock.adobe.com

AI can help respond t patient messaging: ©Pixel_Shot - stock.adobe.com

A study conducted by the University of California San Diego School of Medicine shows the impact of AI-generated replies on physician messaging. While the study, published in the April 15, 2024, online edition of the JAMA Network Open, found that while AI-generated responses did not reduce physician response time, they notably contributed to relieving cognitive burden by furnishing empathetic drafts for physicians to edit.

Dr. Christopher Longhurst, the study's senior author and executive director of the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Center for Health Innovation at UC San Diego Health, underscored the significance of leveraging AI to address health system challenges, particularly the surge in patient messages contributing to physician burnout. He emphasized that the longer, AI-assisted messages reflected higher quality, indicating a promising shift in communication dynamics.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Ming Tai-Seale, highlighted the potential of generative AI as a collaborative tool, particularly in light of the unprecedented surge in digital communications sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic. With physicians inundated by approximately 200 messages per week, AI offers a solution to mitigate "writer's block" and facilitate thoughtful responses to patients.

The pilot program, initiated in April 2023 at UC San Diego Health in collaboration with Epic Systems, aimed to provide virtual physician assistance to manage the escalating demand for patient messages. Transparency remained a key tenet, with AI-generated replies clearly labeled before undergoing physician review and editing.

Despite initial expectations of time-saving benefits, the study's findings revealed that AI messaging did not significantly reduce physician response time. However, it showed the potential of AI to prevent burnout by furnishing detailed drafts, even during the most demanding periods.

Dr. Marlene Millen, chief medical information officer for ambulatory care at UC San Diego Health and study co-author, emphasized the tireless nature of AI, which retains the capacity to draft empathetic messages regardless of the hour. This resilience, coupled with the ability to provide detailed responses, underscores AI's role in enhancing physician well-being and patient satisfaction.

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