Artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly being implemented into the healthcare sector in Australia, especially with recent plans by the government to invest funding into AI health research. AI can be described as computer systems, or machine-learning algorithms, that mimic human cognition, meaning they ‘think’ and ‘act’ like humans.
In a healthcare context, AI is already being used in clinical settings as seen with robotic-assisted heart surgery, for example, or with the use of algorithms in the early diagnostics of serious diseases. AI can also be accessed by patients who can simply download an app to their mobile phone in order to self-monitor certain areas of their health. For healthcare professionals, patient information can be collated and stored in real-time through the means of AI-powered healthcare apps or telemedicine tools.
To understand the role of telemedicine software, AI, and other innovations in healthcare, Capterra surveyed more than 1000 Australians who have had a doctor’s appointment within the last 12-months.
In this second article of the series, we want to know whether the patients we surveyed have any concerns with data privacy and their attitude towards AI in healthcare. With such powerful technologies transforming the medical world, just how much knowledge of AI do Aussies have?
*To see a detailed methodology of the survey, skip to the bottom of this article.
71% of Aussies surveyed by Capterra don’t use healthcare apps
Healthcare apps offer health-related services for users on the go and can be accessed via mobile phones (also known as mobile health or “mHealth”) or tablet PCs. Different types of apps can be used to help patients with a variety of health or lifestyle habits, such as tracking diet and nutrition, monitoring fertility and ovulation, or checking blood glucose sugar levels in diabetic patients. Health apps can keep doctors and patients in communication about their symptoms and medical records from afar known as remote patient monitoring (RPM).
Nowadays, most people always have their smartphone at hand, so it might come as a surprise that 71% of respondents in Capterra’s survey said that they do not use healthcare apps at all. For the 29% of those who do use health apps, we asked them to explain what they use them for, with the option of referencing more than one type.
It seemed that the most popular app choices used by respondents include sleep and step monitoring apps (both at 21% of users) whilst the COVIDSafe COVID-19 exposure tracking app is being used by a smaller group of Aussies (10%). Other types of health apps used by respondents include:
- Heart rate monitoring apps (17%)
- Nutrition and diet tracking apps (13%)
- Medication monitoring apps (6%)
- Global check-up apps, which combine hearing, eyesight, and weight (5%)
- Habit tracking apps, such as alcohol and cigarette consumption (2%)
- Allergy tracking apps (2%)
- Diabetes monitoring and management apps (2%)
The 2% of respondents that selected “other” further explained that these include healthcare apps that monitor epilepsy seizures and apps for tracking menstrual cycles.
65% of health app users are aware that the providers may be sharing their data with third parties
A combined total of 65% of people in the group who use health apps acknowledge that app providers may be sharing their personal information with third parties, such as insurance providers. Out of this group, 38% say that they are not worried about apps using their data, whilst 28%, however, are concerned.
From the remaining respondents, 30% answered that they lacked an awareness as to what healthcare app providers might do with their private details and 4% were “not sure” about how much of their medical data is being stored and possibly used elsewhere.
In Australia, however, companies that provide a health service and collect health information, including mHealth apps, must comply with data protection laws under the Privacy Act (1998). App users must also check the ‘terms and conditions’ before using an app, which highlights that their data is being collected. This should also give health app users an awareness of how their personal information may be used and for what purposes.
44% of Aussies are not sure what the benefits are of AI in healthcare
We asked respondents what they thought the main benefits of using AI in healthcare are and 44% answered that they are “not sure”. This again suggests that Aussies perhaps lack familiarity and knowledge of AI technologies.
Those who cited the benefits of AI said that it offers speedier assistance (32%), 10% believe it could lead to a decrease in human error, 4% noted that it was easier to share patient data and only 5% trust that it can provide a more accurate diagnosis than an in-person appointment. Interestingly, 2% selected “other” as a response when asked about the benefits of AI in healthcare…
AI challenges in healthcare
When those who answered “other” were asked to share their ideas, almost every respondent said that they did not think that there is an advantage of AI in healthcare at all. Each wrote their reason as to why not:
- Lack of confidence in AI
- A person needs to be seen in-person for a medical diagnosis
- There could be errors
- There is a lack of empathy for patients
- Healthcare is being dehumanised
- It can be quite frustrating to use.
The answers highlight that perhaps the Australian public still needs more insight on how AI in healthcare works. As more evidence emerges of how AI can be beneficial in a healthcare setting and as the familiarity of AI tools builds, perhaps Aussies will have more confidence in its competency.
Many Aussies feel uncomfortable with the use of AI in healthcare
When we asked survey respondents how they would feel about sharing their medical history with an AI-powered virtual assistant, a combined total of 66% were against it. In fact, 24% of this group would feel “very uncomfortable” and 42% would be “a little uncomfortable” at the idea. In comparison, a total of 34% of patients answered that they would feel “comfortable” (30%) or “very comfortable” (4%).
In the survey, Capterra asked patients how they would feel if they were to have a diagnosis and treatment plan verified by an AI algorithm. Again, the majority of respondents (75%) answered that this is not something that they would feel comfortable with, whilst only 25% would.
When the survey asked patients how comfortable they would feel if their medication was to be prescribed by AI-powered software, a combined total of 72% of respondents revealed that they would not feel confident in this, whilst only 28% would.
Aussies prefer to share their medical history with the doctor in-person before an appointment
When asked what their preferred method is for sharing a medical history before an appointment, 40% of respondents in the survey said they prefer to do so in-person with a healthcare professional. It was then very close between patients opting to use an online form (23%) and the good old-fashioned pen and paper in the waiting room (22%). 8% said they prefer to use a virtual assistant and 7% share their information over the phone. Again, it appears that the idea of using AI is not so popular.
Whilst electronic health records (EHR) have existed for a while, AI vendors are working on tools that enable physicians to access and update these digital medical records. This should enhance the experience between doctors and patients, and also help healthcare professionals to better manage their time.
A little more than half of Aussies think that AI in healthcare may be important in improving patient experience
A combined total of 53% of survey respondents believe that it is “important” (45%) or “extremely important” (8%) to adopt AI-powered tools and technologies to improve the patient experience. But it seems that there is an almost even divide, as 47% of Aussies we surveyed say that AI in healthcare is “not important” (32%) or “not important at all” (15%).
Whilst AI in healthcare has cleverly evolved and is efficient in many ways, it remains difficult for technology to fully replace human contact, which is something that is important for the doctor-patient relationship. When it comes to patients gaining trust in AI, technologies will need to live up to Aussies’ expectations in terms of performance, accuracy, security, and regulation.
Perhaps it will take more communication from the government, but given that it has invested heavily into AI health research for the coming years, it will hopefully empower and encourage Aussies to manage their health using AI-powered tools.