This week’s article is going to be vaguely based on a report that the NHS recently put out called “Public perceptions and attitudes to Artificial Intelligence (AI) in healthcare”. plus some thoughts of what the general public think about using AI in healthcare.
AI has been around for a lot longer than you may think, the beginnings of AI can be traced to classical philosophers’ attempts to describe human thinking as a symbolic system. But the field of AI wasn’t formally founded until 1956. [A Brief History of Artificial Intelligence, LiveScience]  AI was first described in 1950 where it was introduced in healthcare; there were many limitations with it being used such as people accepting it on a widespread basis and applying it to medicine. Luckily in the early 2000s many of these limitations were overcome by ‘deep learning’. [History of artificial intelligence in medicine, PubMed] It has definitely progressed through the years and has become an ever growing thing. People will still have their doubts about it but it won’t stop it from progressing and improving diagnostic accuracy and the workflow efficiency in healthcare. 

Purpose of AI is to improve the healthcare that the system provides us in ways such as: speeding up healthcare waiting times, improving the staff care and improving what care is allocated to each patient and so much more.  AI has always played a role in our healthcare system: Supporting diagnostic decisions, predicting care needs, informing resource planning and generating game-changing research.

The results from the NHS survey/report showed that there are many misunderstandings about AI, concerns about ‘assurances in efficacy and ethical use’. One of their surveys indicated that 64% of respondents (healthcare staff) reported never coming across AI in their work despite it already being used extensively in everyday practice. The conclusions and recommendations showed that there is a need for transparency, provision of information and increased public awareness. Patients and the public should be regarded in the development, they should be engaged at  the beginning of the AI development to build their trust and confidence in the technology. It’s also important that healthcare professionals are more aware so they can communicate better with patients to understand their concerns.  

SPEAKING TO THE GENERAL PUBLIC

AI has played a big role in our healthcare system for a lot longer than people may think but after listening to a few peoples thoughts on how it’s growing, for example them being tracked throughout a hospital may seem a bit scary at first but hopefully people realise that it’s for the greater good of healthcare. 

-“I think it’s probably a good idea but how accurate is the data… because it’s only as good as what people put into it. I think the concept is good certainly if it helps reduce demand and assist with streamlining the right services” 

-“This would’ve been so beneficial to my grandpa when he had parkinsons and alzheimers in the nursing home” 

-”Having AI is an awesome idea, however technology can be so unreliable that it can crash and stuff like that, I suppose if it’s always maintained correctly then there won’t be any issues. But just going to the hospital and being able to get help faster and better I would accept anything that can make it better. People that work with it just need to get the proper training so they don’t come across as many issues and faults.”

-”The intent is good but I personally think that some could argue that it’s invasive of privacy and personal data that some might not want to share.” 

“I think this is very worthwhile, as more funds/staff can be allocated into the areas which see a need for  it. Concentrating on these areas will benefit patients and hospital waiting lists and targets. Maybe in time i think this would be a beneficial exercise to track from a first appointment with GP through if necessary to hospital departments and aftercare”

-”As a parent of young children and with my own parents being in their 70s, a long wait in A&E in the event of an emergency would be very concerning but sadly, according to recent news, that seems to have become the norm. So I’d welcome anything that can be done to improve patient flows in hospitals right now, including the effective use of data science and AI and I think it’s great that this is being embraced by the NHS.”

I had a few people respond and say that they wish it started sooner as they have had family members previously in care and felt as if they didn’t get the right help as quickly as they’d wished for. There seems to be a lot of concern about privacy issues but I understand that members of the general public might be a bit wary of using AI in healthcare. As it’s hardly spoken about when it’s been used previously, so to a lot of people it might feel like something new. No one really trusts technology anyway because there can be many faults in ways such as systems going down, bugs but I’m sure when the general public start to see results they will love it. I seemed to get really positive opinions on it, although like I said a few people actually had no idea about it before I explained it to them. Overall, I think AI needs to be talked about more to give the general public a better understanding and not worry about it.

Meg Wheller
Media Marketer, Spatial Quotient