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Artificial intelligence gaining acceptance among patients


In a patient survey, 66% of respondents said AI plays a large role in their diagnosis and treatment and thought it was important.

With artificial intelligence making its way into life in a wide range of ways, health care, including ophthalmology, is no exception.

Ophthalmology, with its heavy reliance on imaging, is an innovator in the field of AI in medicine. Although the opportunities for patients and health care professionals are great, hurdles to fully integrating AI remain, including economic, ethical, and data-privacy issues.

“AI is impacting health care at every level, from the provider to the payer to pharma,” according to Dan Riskin, MD, CEO and founder of Verantos, a health care data company in Palo Alto, California, that uses AI to sort through real world evidence.

The question remains, just how to patients feel about the use of AI in the diagnosis and treatment of their illnesses?

In a patient survey conducted in December 2019, 66% of respondents said AI plays a large role in their diagnosis and treatment and thought it was important. Another 29.8% agreed AI is at least somewhat important.

The survey included a total of 926 respondents, 471 women, 50.9%, and 455 men, 49.1%. It appeared in JAMA Network Open.

However, not everyone surveyed was enamored with AI.

According to the survey, 31% of respondents reported being very uncomfortable and 40.5% were somewhat uncomfortable with receiving a diagnosis from an AI algorithm that was accurate 90% of the time but incapable of explaining its rationale.

Moreover, most patients agree that AI would make health care much better (10.9%) or somewhat better (44.5%) comparted to 4.3% who thought it would make it somewhat worse or much worse (1.9%).

For respondents who answered “don’t know” 59.7% of them wanted to be told when AI played a small role in their diagnosis or treatment, and were very uncomfortable with receiving an AI diagnosis that was accurate 98% of the time but could not be explained.

Most respondents had positive views about AI’s ability to improve care but had concerns about its potential for misdiagnosis, privacy breaches, reducing time with clinicians, and increasing costs, with racial and ethnic minority groups expressing greater concern.

The comfort level was mixed, depending on which application AI was being applied to. For example, 55% were either very or somewhat comfortable with AI reading chest radiographs. However, that figure fell to 31.2% when the task was making a cancer diagnosis.

A key concern among most respondents is misdiagnosis (91.5%), privacy breaches (70.8%), less time with clinicians (69.6%) and higher costs (68.4%).

The respondents who identified themselves as a racial or ethnic minority were more concerned with this issues than white respondents.

The researchers recommended that clinicians, policy makers, and developers should be aware of patients’ views regarding AI. Education for patients on how AI is being incorporated into care and the extent to which clinicians rely on AI to assist with decision-making may be necessary.

“AI is utilized in a multitude of ways depending on the health care ecosystem,” said Athena Robinson, PhD, chief clinical officer at Woebot Labs, a digital therapeutics company in San Francisco. “Some folks think of augmented systems, such as transactional bots that you call to schedule an appointment.”

Why AI is so effective

Artificial intelligence will never replace physicians or other providers, but it does have undeniable strengths with which the human brain simply can’t compete.

“The main strength of AI in general, not only pertaining to medicine, is its ability to digest large amounts of data to detect patterns and connections between the data points that a human wouldn’t necessarily be very good at doing,” said Theodore Zanos, PhD, head of the Neural and Data Science Lab and an assistant professor at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research at Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York.

AI can also make connections much more quickly than a human doctor, reading and interpreting hundreds of thousands of pages of medical records—and it’s only going to get better at it. This function has been a boon during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For those who are concerned that patients might not trust AI, Riskin says it’s not an either/or situation.

Sanjay Aneja, MD, Dhruv Khullar, MD, MPP, et.al; Perspectives of Patients About Artificial Intelligence in Health Care. JAMA Network Published May 2, 2022.doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.10309
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