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Survey finds mixed feelings about using AI in primary care


Acceptance varies by age and situation

AI symbols in health care ©


Artificial intelligence (AI) is gaining a foothold in primary care, particularly among younger adults, a new poll reveals.

The poll of 3,317 adults found that 40% of those age 18 to 34 said they would be comfortable with a primary care appointment led by AI, compared to 24% of adults 65 and older. Overall, 32% said they would be somewhat or very comfortable with an AI-led appointment. 

When it comes to specific, common health care needs, however, people greatly prefer medical professionals to AI. For example, by a margin of 84% to 13%, respondents preferred a medical professional for prescribing pain medication. For diagnosing a rash in a sensitive area the margin was 81% to 15%. The narrowest margin—69% for a professional versus 28% for AI—was in managing diet.

The poll, taken in May using SurveyMonkey, was conducted by Outbreaks Near Me, a joint team of epidemiologists from Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School founded to help identify COVID-19 hotspots. The poll included health care workers, who were asked how AI is affecting their jobs or might do so in the future.

The poll also showed that patients’ acceptance of AI is outpacing its actual use among health care professionals. Among the professionals surveyed, only 14% said they use AI to help diagnose, treat, or communicate with patients.

At the same time, though, patients have high expectations for the technology, with 66% saying they think AI will play a bigger role in personal health care five years from now than it does today and more than one in five (22%) expecting AI to be better than medical professionals at diagnosing medical problems. About one-third (34%) think AI will do better than medical professionals at treating patients without bias.

For their part, medical professionals are more ambivalent about the benefits of AI. One-third said they thought AI will cause more harm than good over the next five years, while 23% said AI will help more than it hurts and 42% that it will equally help and hurt.

The survey found less acceptance of AI when it comes to therapy, with 25% of those polled saying they would be comfortable with AI-led therapy. Here, too, those in the 18-34 age cohort were the most accepting, with 34% saying they would be somewhat or very comfortable in an AI-led session. That drops to 22% among those age 35 to 64, and 18% for those 65 and older.

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