Whether we are ready or not, artificial intelligence (AI) is already playing a role in many areas of healthcare. However, according to a new Western study, the cautious development, deployment and even definition of further AI advances will determine their impact and effectiveness in the years to come.
Interdisciplinary researchers from family medicine, informatics and epidemiology have identified key issues related to the use of AI tools in primary health care by directly connecting with GPs, nurses, nursing practitioners and digital health stakeholders.
Responses overwhelmingly show that AI could have a positive impact on clinical practice, but many factors need to be considered in its implementation.
“We’re ready for AI, but we need to think about how and when to use it,” said Dan Lizotte, associate professor of computer science and the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and senior author of the study. “So let me complement and say, ‘I think we’re ready to start the process of successful implementation.'”
AI and machine learning (a branch of AI that involves learning patterns from data) encompasses a variety of techniques loosely focused on computers performing human-like “intelligent” tasks. AI methods are already being used in applications ranging from advanced web search engines (Google) and recommendation systems (Netflix, Amazon) to human language understanding (Siri and Alexa) and self-driving cars (Tesla). In primary healthcare, AI could be used to predict patient outcomes based on anonymous electronic medical record (EMR) data, or to predict trends and identify patterns that are too complex for humans to discern (e.g., outbreaks). of infectious diseases in a community).
For this study, former graduate student Jaky Kueper, Lizotte, and co-investigator Amanda Terry conducted 14 in-depth interviews with primary care and digital health stakeholders in Ontario. Kueper, now a TechForward Fellow in AI at the College of Family Physicians of Canada, is the first western student to complete a combined PhD in epidemiology and computer science.
In the interviews, the uptake of AI in primary care was generally positive, but there were also several concerns, including costs and availability of new technologies, privacy concerns, threats to clinical skills and capacity, loss of human control over decisions, and broader ethical, legal and social implications.
“There is a willingness in terms of people looking for solutions that use technology including AI that can help support primary care physicians, but there are many things that need to be done first in terms of transparency, ensuring privacy and cost must be implemented,” said Terry, director of the Center for Studies in Family Medicine at Schulich Medicine and Dentistry.
When considering the use of AI in primary healthcare, physicians must be familiar with implementation and application, but so are patients.
Lizotte said the introduction of AI to doctors, nurses and caregivers raises as many questions as answers, but it’s an important step to consider as healthcare digitization is here to stay.
“Will AI improve the things I care about in my practice? Or will it crowd them out in a way that is neither good for me nor good for my patients? Those are the questions that concern us all,” said Lizotte. “I think overall there is cautious optimism about AI implementation, but the key word is caution.”
The results were published in the journal, BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making.