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Third of patients in favour of AI-supported consultations and clinical documents, study finds

Over a third of patients are in favour of clinicians using artificial intelligence (AI) in consultations to improve documentation processes such as clinical letters, according to a recent white paper from the Microsoft company Nuance.

Analysing survey responses from 13,500 participants from nine European countries plus the UK and Australia, the white paper explored patients’ recent interactions with clinicians and whether they believed AI would have helped to improve their experience.

The responses highlighted five main challenges that patients felt contributed to an unsatisfactory experience with their clinician: ineffective communication, excessive waiting times, lack of personalisation, insufficient continuity of care and limited accessibility to healthcare information.

An average of 40% of respondents felt that they didn’t receive their physician’s full attention during consultations because they were focused on their computer screens. Of those, 40% said that led to feelings of frustration. In the UK, this frustration peaked at 50% of respondents.

In order to improve this interaction, an average of 34% of respondents said they felt using AI to assist in the clinical documentation process would be a good idea, ranging from 27% in Norway to 48% in Spain.

When considering the age breakdown, respondents from younger age groups were more likely to agree AI would be beneficial. The percentage decreased with each age category from 43% of 18-to-24-year-olds to 26% of those aged 65 and over.

Although the patients surveyed had not yet had any personal experience with AI in healthcare, respondents chose freeing up time for the clinician as the most compelling reason to use AI, with an average of 45% and peaking at 55% for German respondents.

While the survey respondents broadly supported the use of AI, they also raised concerns about the use of AI in clinical settings, with 50% saying they were ‘somewhat concerned’. A further 32% were ‘not very concerned’ and 10% were ‘not concerned’.

The main cause for this concern was a lack of AI regulation at 34%, which increased to 46% in Germany and 48% in the UK. Medical information being recorded was also highlighted, with 17% recording this as a concern.

In response to this, the white paper stated: ‘The regulatory aspect of AI is changing all the time, with most governing bodies in our surveyed countries working on AI roadmaps and specific legislation.

‘Healthcare organisations should ensure they implement tools that are purpose-built for clinical environments to guarantee quality and safety, and that they clearly communicate the benefits to clinicians and patients.’

Writing in the white paper, Dr David Rhew, global chief medical officer and vice president of healthcare, at Microsoft, said: ‘With AI, we can pull together more information than ever before, extracting deeper insights into patient health and treatment options. We can accelerate and automate the workflows clinicians follow, and simplify the tasks that can draw their focus away from the patient. And we can tailor care pathways and treatments to the individual patient’s unique needs.’

The white paper also stated that ‘this total focus on the most meaningful part of their role – working directly with patients – supports clinicians’ professional satisfaction and reduces the likelihood of burnout’.

Earlier this year, the EU-funded METEOR Project highlighted widespread retention issues in Europe with 9% of doctors and nearly 14% of nurses declaring an intention to leave their profession, citing low job satisfaction, growing depersonalisation and emotional exhaustion as the primary factors.

And the recent NHS staff survey revealed that 65.56% of medical and dental staff were unable to meet all the conflicting demands on their time at work.

Previous research from Nuance in 2022 revealed that NHS healthcare professionals in acute, mental and community health settings were spending an average of 13.5 hours per week generating clinical documentation – a 25% increase since 2015.

Consultants were found to spend the longest on clinical documentation at 15.1 hours per week.

A further 3.2 hours per week were spent out-of-hours by healthcare professionals on this task, according to the research.

Some 68% of respondents said they felt it likely or very likely that their notes would be more complete if they had more time to complete them.

In an attempt to help free up doctors’ time to treat more patients and reduce waiting times, the NHS has recently announced the rollout of AI software at 10 trusts in England that aims to reduce missed appointments.